Feats of Fabrication: American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial

Five-layer, etched and painted glass panels displayed at first-of its-kind memorial
Bethany Stough
April 29, 2015
The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial features 48 laminated and etched glass panels showcasing quotes and photos of disabled veterans across all conflicts. Photo courtesy of Kris Iverson, Moon Shadow Glass

Three striking glass walls highlight the new American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, which opened Oct. 5 in Washington, D.C., and pays tribute to disabled veterans both living and deceased across all conflicts throughout the nation’s history.

Four glass fabricators worked for nearly three years to develop the 48 laminated and etched glass panels that form interpretive walls, displaying disabled soldiers’ stories through quotations and photographs.

Savoy Studios was first contracted by the Disabled Veterans’ Life Memorial Foundation to fabricate the glass panel walls. Savoy collaborated with Moon Shadow Glass Inc., which completed the glass etching; and Glass Strategies, which laminated the final panels.

The numerous and complex fabrication steps required close coordination and adaptation throughout the project, while the size and weight of each finished laminated-glass panel demanded special handling from the fabricators.

Hartung Glass Industries supplied the ultra-clear glass. Made using ¾-inch ultra-clear Starphire Glass by PPG Industries each individual panel layer is 48 inches by 106 inches and weighs 360 pounds.

Savoy contacted Moon Shadow Glass Inc., a fellow Oregon-based company that it had collaborated with in the past, to handle the photorealistic images and text etching on the surface and between each layer of the panels, using proprietary processes.

“We had to produce detailed stencils and film from the original artwork,” said Tim Frasier, founder and owner of Moon Shadow Glass, in a Hartung release. “After putting those images on the glass, we manually sandblasted the surface to achieve just the right effect,” he says.

Similar to silk screening, creating photorealistic etching involves making a film that’s either positive or negative and then creating an etch from that. An unusual step for Moon Shadow, “The process involved working with the architects and designers to produce horizontal line graphics of the photos, and then we took that and etched it into glass,” explains Kris Iverson, marketing and creative director for Moon Shadow.

“Each image is from a different war—the ‘thousand-yard stare’ is from Vietnam, and the soldier cradling a wounded soldier is from the Korean [War],” says Iverson. “We used special films to reproduce the shading of black and white photographs and captured those incredible images on glass. This was a huge challenge.”

Some of the etching appears on the outside surface of the panels, allowing visitors to touch and feel the indentations, which are 1/16-inch deep.

Once the etching process was complete, Savoy Studios painted the etched photos and interior text. Savoy then delivered the glass panels to long-time collaborator Glass Strategies to be sand-sealed, a process where specially formulated paint is applied by hand to an etched surface, and laminated. Both companies met several times over the course of the project to determine how the process would go—and adapt along the way.

Dana Legree uses an edger to complete each panel at Savoy Studios, savoystudios.com. Photo courtesy of Savoy Studios.

Having never dealt with glass that was 1,800 pounds per laminated panel, Glass Strategies and Savoy Studios coordinated to build special tilt tables with removable skids to accommodate the weight of each panel, explains Sean Healy, shop manager for Glass Strategies.

Using overhead and wheeled cranes, the team at Glass Strategies placed the massive sheets on custom tilt-tables for the laminating process. The liquid resin Polylam, manufactured by Glasslam, glasslam.com, filled the irregular etched spaces between the sheets of glass before hardening into a solid, unbreakable bond. Polylam has been tested for projects that are being exposed to outdoor weather conditions. The laminate is able to accommodate irregular surfaces, such as deeply etched glass, according to the Hartung release.

“The scope and complexity of the panels, combined with the size and weight, provided unique challenges throughout the process,” said Rich Lamothe, owner of Glass Strategies, in the Hartung release.

Once the lamination was completed, Savoy Studios handled the whitewash painting of the etched indentations and used a computer-controlled water jet to trim each panel to its finished size. That required careful placement of each panel into a holding device to ensure that the edges were precisely aligned vertically and horizontally. After the trimming was completed, the edges of the glass panels were rounded and polished to ensure a smooth finish that visitors can easily touch.

The entire fabrication took Savoy Studios, and its subcontractors, nearly three years to complete, with each panel taking about two-and-a-half weeks to make.

Ray Stanczak of Glass Strategies, glassstrategies.com, laminates each memorial panel. Photo courtesy of Glass Strategies.

“One of my biggest challenges was working with three companies,” said Keir Legree, project manager at Savoy Studios. “Coordinating, gathering and receiving materials was a huge part of the job. The coordination and making things seamless was necessary but difficult.”

Representatives from each glass company noted the challenge of the precision and coordination needed to complete the highly complex project, but also the humbling experience of using their skills to honor veterans.

“Looking at the pictures—they’re larger than life. And thinking about [the person] in the photo—what he went through—and then working on it and being part of it, it’s really moving. We feel honored,” said Legree.

For the memorial, artist Larry Kirkland created four silhouette designs to be used for bronze sculptures and selected the photographs to be used on the glass panels. Research firm History Associates selected quotations for inscription in the glass walls.

The design of the memorial was completed by Michael Vergason Landscape Architects and the project architect was Shalom Baranes Associates. The glazing installer was Tidewater Glazing.

Stough is managing editor for Glass Magazine, GlassMagazine.com and e-glass weekly. Write her at bstough@glass.org.