I have been doing stain glass projects for more than 30 years. It all started when I passed a small stain glass studio in a “strip mall” near our condominium in Southern California. There was a sign in the window advertizing a class that was being offered to beginners that I noticed one day while out for a walk. I had always enjoyed the beauty of the craft but never seriously thought it was something that I would be able to do. I was more of the outdoors/athletic type. My older sister was the artistic one. And so was my husband, who built beautiful furniture for our babies and is currently building his 6th wooden boat. Still, the sign said that basic tools would be included and promised that within a few weeks I would have completed my own stain glass panel that I could hang or have framed (at an additional cost, of course). It was intriguing and I was looking for something I could do while my babies were napping. Don encouraged me and promised to watch the kids while I attended the once a week evening classes. Sure enough, in a few weeks, I had learned enough to produce a small 10×14″ panel of a gray whale swimming in a blue ocean. Altogether it had just 15 pieces, but I was proud and Don built a nice frame for it. It hangs in our guest bathroom window.
Don’t get me wrong, I was, and am, anything but a natural at it. When we lived in the condo there were other stain glass studios and shops in the neighborhood where I could get patterns, supplies and instructions as I tried to increase my skill. I suspect the craft was experiencing a bit of a renaissance at the time. When we moved to Acton, a more remote high desert community, it became a bit more difficult to find supplies locally. Still there was a studio in an industrial center in the desert near the Lockheed plant where they were producing the top-secret (at that time anyway) SR 71 Blackbird. I went to check it out and learned they were offering a class in building stained glass sun-catchers, a sort of small frameless decoration that you hang on a window via a suction cup device to catch the light from the sun and brighten up a room. I made an eight-inch turkey to display at Thanksgiving. It turned out great and I made an addition dozen or so suncatchers related to different holidays or times of the year that I can rotate with the change of season.
I also continued to build windows or panels, often as gifts, though these projects took more of my time. With a full-time job and a family to raise, I was lucky to take on a project like this every year or two. For some, I made my own pattern or cartoon as the plan is sometimes called. These included a four-panel sidelight I made for my parent’s home, a window for our room addition in Acton that I created to look like an aquarium, or the kanji peace symbol I made for my daughter who spent a couple of years in Japan with the Navy. For others, I used commercial patterns that I made my own by selecting different types and colors of glass. One of my favorites is of four potted-plants on a window sill that I made for my mother’s 65 birthday. I was never interested in making the traditional-style windows that are often seen in churches. That’s partly because of the time and skill necessary to cut lots of small, intricate pieces and partly because I prefer the look of bright colors and simple designs.
When we moved to Maine a dozen years ago, I carefully packed up my glass and supplies to take across the country. Now, for the first time I have a dedicated “studio” in a room in the basement. Don built me a special work bench and installed special lighting overhead. It is a nice place to work on projects, though I still only do a project every now and then. Even in retirement there are too many other things I want to do. But, sometimes on a cold winter day, Don will fire up the propane heater in the basement so that I can work in my studio on one side and he can build a wooden boat or other project (like framing for my latest panel) on the other. I recently started a new window panel project and he is preparing to build a wood strip canoe. I think we will both be spending a fair amount of time down there this winter. Life is good.