Three local artist are among 11 displaying their works in a stained glass exhibition now at the Greater Reston Arts Center (GRACE). The show, which ends Feb. 26, is the first of its kind in the metropolitan area, according to Judy Forster, executive director of GRACE.

"One of the reasons you don't see many glass shows is that a lot of galleries don't have enough windows to allow you to mount the stained glass so it can be viewed with the light coming through," Forster said.

The GRACE exhibition includes a sampling of work being designed and constructed by comtemporary stained-glass artists. The works are modest in size, consisting mainly of display pieces mounted on the small, modern gallery's large from window panels.

The three Restonians in the exhibition are Rowan LeCompte, a stained glass artist for 38 years and a glass designer for the Washington Cathedral; Brend Belfield, a pupil of LeCompte's and a stained glass artist for seven years, and Dieter Goldkuhle, a master stained glass craftsman who constructs, or fabricates, stained-glass windows for the Cathedral.

"We know there is so much misinformation about the art of stained glass. People ask me, "How do you color the glass?" Well, the glass comes colored, just as you see it.

It's hand-blown or machine-made in England, France, Germany or in one place in the U.S. - West Virginia," Belfied said. "One of the purposes of this exhibition is we really wanted to make people more aware of the process."

At the recent opening of the show, a special demonstration with commentary by Goldkuhle was included.

A peculiarity of staine-glass work is that the artist who designs a work rarely constructs a piece. That is the work of a fabricator, such as Goldkuhle, and it is a highly developed and complex craft.

Goldkuhle is acknowledged by many artists as one of the nation's outstanding fabricators, said Belfield, who has all he designs fabricated by him. Goldkuhle takes the artist's cartoon, or colored drawing, and makes a numbered brown paper pattern from it, similar to a dress pattern.

He uses the pattern to cut colored glass pieces needed to construct the design.Each piece is placed on a glass easel (a clear plate of glass) to make sure that the colors match the cartoon when light comes through the glass.

"Stained glass is the only art form that relies entirely on natural daylight for its effect; it's painting with light," Belfield said. "It's also designed for use in space and that makes it different from all other art forms."

Belfield designed the windoe at Washington Cathedral that honors Lincoln's mother and currently is working on a Cathedral window commemorating Martha Washington.

"My biggest project to date was designing the window donated by the International YWCA for teh north aisle nave," she said. The large, three-panel work symbolizing body, mind and spirit was dedicated in November.

Goldkuhle and LeCompte each spent more than 3,500 hours working onthe acclaimed new west rose window at the Cathedral. The cartoon and pattern for the window, which took more than two years to complete and contains more than 12,000 pieces of stained glass, are included in the GRACE exhibition.

Belfied said both men have had a part in influencing the direction of stained-glass work.

"Rowan has been working as a stained glass artist for 38 years and gave me my first instruction in the process," Belfield said. "He saw some of my paintings and said the patterns in my work would be good in stained glass designs.

"Dieter grew up with glass; his father was a designer in Germany. He's a great fabricator and can cut any shape or do anything that's possible to do with glass."

Belfield said she always knew she wanted to be an artist and took courses at the Rhode Island School of Design when she was in elementary shcool. She began her career as a painter, she said, and now works as a painter and a stained glass artist.

"I wouldn't want to give either up," she said. "I think in my painting I've always been into color and light, and it was very intriguing to get into the stained-glass process and work with colored light and the three-dimensional aspect."

Forster said stained-glass works have under a major evolution since first being introduced.

"This art form originally was used in churches for telling biblical stories to people who couldn't read or write," Forster said. "Today it has become more abstract in design and used for display in homes or architecturally. Much of the work in this show is in the abstract style."

"Stained glass was the cinema," Belfield added, "the light show for the 12th Century. The colored light shining through it had spiritual significance, like the sign of the rainbow. I believe it still weaves that spell."

Other stained glass artists in the Reston show are Richard Avidon, Eric Erikson, Robert Sowers, Samuel Wiener, Efren Weitzman and David Wilson, all of New York City; Robert Pinart of Nyack, N.Y. and Albert Birkle of Salzburg, Austria.