Texas longhorn steer mosaic artLonghorn

11 1/2″ x 16″

Longhorn cattle are popular in these parts.  One of them is the mascot of the enormous university in my town, but besides that, they have a long history in Texas.

One of my neighbors, H.W. Brands, is a history scholar and prolific author, and here’s what he had to say about the longhorns in his 2010 book, American Colossus- the Triumph of Capitalism 1865-1900:

For much of the century before the Civil War, feral cattle from northern Mexico roamed the broad valley of the Rio Grande…. [the cattle] treated the Anglos with the same disdain they had shown the Latinos….Keen of scent, wary of danger, rugged of constitution, the longhorns continued to thrive on the Rio Grande, and they spread up the coastal bend as the Americans and the Indians decimated the buffalo herds that had once dominated the Texas grasslands.

The romance of the longhorn, the cowboy, and the open prairie is so strong that they are recognizable icons world-wide.  Longhorns are everywhere, and when someone commissioned me to make a longhorn mosaic in a tray bottom, I was not surprised.

For those who are curious, I show my steps in making the tray:

After deciding to make the design in stained glass, I sketched several compositions in a small notebook. In the final composition, the face of the longhorn is off-center, which means that one horn disappears off the edge of the tray.  I think it gives the composition motion, as if the animal has pushed its way onto the scene.  trying out longhorn compositions

I drew the longhorn design the full size of the tray, then I drew in the cutting lines for each piece of glass.  These lines would become grout lines on the completed tray.  My considerations were to keep a flow going throughout the composition, but without creating rivers of lines which would run completely through the picture and become distractingly prominent.  I also thought about my intersections of glass corners and where those might lead the eye.  And I made the lines in the sky straight, but made the lines in the animal organic and curvy.

I traced the drawing twice, once for a pattern onto which I would fit the cut pieces, and the second time to make a pattern to be cut apart and glued individually onto glass pieces .Tracing drawing of cut lines for longhorn mosaicMaking multiple tracings of the longhorn

Below is what a piece of stained glass looks like with patterns glued on using rubber cement.tesserae outlines glued to stained glass

And, here I’m checking the glass pieces to see what they look like inside the tray:fitting cut glass into tray bottom(This is really just a picture of my impatience, as I check to see what the tray looks like with a picture in its bottom.)

Here is how I really check the fit of each piece:  I put the cut glass onto a traced pattern, then use a marker to draw onto the glass where I need to use the grinder to shave off more from edges or corners.fitting cut tesserae onto the longhorn drawingI did not try to make each grout space exactly the same width of every other grout space, nor did I try to make each piece of glass exactly match up with its neighbor.  I like the handmade look of something that is slightly imperfect.  In my world, too much perfection looks machine-made.

Here is the finished tray:

Longhorn trayMAC glue is what I used to adhere the glass to the wood, although I had previously coated the wood with a diluted version of Weldbond, to give it extra sticking power.  I chose tobacco brown grout to blend with the walnut finish I had put on the tray.  I also poured a dose of polymer additive into the grout powder when I was mixing it- this gives better adhesion to the glass.  After grouting, I cleaned the glass with dental tools, as all the sky has a textured surface.  After the grout had cured, I coated it with a sealant.

For those of you who are glass-fusers, yes, the dark cinnamon-colored glass is a ‘striker’, and was café-au-lait before I cooked it in the kiln.

And, yes, I do recommend Brands’ book, American Colossus, for giving a sweeping view of how the U.S. positioned itself to become a world power during its formative late-19th century years.  And, no, I don’t read boring history books!American Colossus by H.W. Brands