Friday, March 23, 2018

A Window To Another World

In the spring of 1992, in the middle of having my home built, I began to wonder what I would do with the transom windows I was having installed in several places in the home. Should I just leave them bare? What do other people do with them? That's when I had the idea to fit them with stained glass but I wasn't keen on the idea of paying someone to do the work. A co-worker, Shannon Madery, suggested I check out a stained glass shop in Eagan called Creations in Glass to see what they offered for instruction. I took their beginner's class in the art of stained glass, having no idea if I'd have either the aptitude or the desire to take it beyond the 6 session course. I would be one of their last students before they went out of business.

I finished my first project, and like a proud little schoolboy bringing his artwork home, I gave it to my mother. She kindly displayed it in her home for the rest of her life, as she did with my 2nd project as well. I had no way of knowing then how this passing curiosity with an art form I'd never expressed an interest in up until then would become a part of my life, of my identity.

In the 26 years of working with stained glass, I can't think of a time when I've enjoyed it more than I am now. I think what I like most is the creative aspect of what I'm doing; to be able to draw a design and then the process of bringing it to life. It's a rewarding feeling. I would imagine that my brother Keith feels the same satisfaction when he installs kitchen cabinets in a client's home.

I've been content to focus on my little sun-catchers for the past few months but I recently got out of my orbit to entertain a request. I received the following message on my Etsy account two weeks ago:

"Hi Kevin,

Fellow Minnesotan here. I love the geometric nature of your work. Very cool pieces! I have been looking for something like this for a large vertical window I have in my entryway, though I was hoping to find something more in the 10” x 40” range. Do you have anything with that dimension by chance?

Thanks so much and keep up the great work!

— Kyle"

He was referencing this small sun-catcher.

I opened my DeltaCad program and found the archived design of the sun-catcher Kyle liked. I fiddled with it for a while, eventually coming up with something more in line with Kyle's 10" x 40" (25 x 100 cm) request. I did some simple calculations to put me in the ballpark for what I thought it would cost and sent him the estimate along with the design.

I never heard back from him.

I decided to do the project anyway to see how long something like that would actually take me. I'm fearful of taking on a project and finding that I've committed to something that isn't worth my time and then becoming resentful that I ever took it on. That's too much like a crummy job, and I want to avoid that. Doing this project would give me a good idea of whether or not my estimate was fair for both Kyle and me.

I walked into Glass Endeavors a couple days later with a full-size drawing of the 10" x 40" design, intent on purchasing glass and whatever else I'd need in order to do the project. Zoi, one of the owners asked me if I was going to use H-channel lead considering all of the straight lines involved in it. I told her it had been 26 years since I'd last used that method (The 2nd project mentioned above was the last time I'd used it.) and I wasn't sure I wanted to re-learn it again on a project the size of the one I was undertaking. But the seed was planted. All the while I was choosing glass I kept going back to what Zoi had said, and I knew she was right. I went over to where they stock the long lengths of H-channel lead (also referred to as lead came) and contemplated the steps involved in assembling a window in this way. I can do this I thought to myself. There was a real possibility that I wouldn't be happy with the result but it would be a good learning experience.

I approached Zoi and told her she was right and that I needed to abandon my thoughts of using the trusted copper foil method for this one project and use lead came instead. I gathered up the tools I'd need along with the glass and lead, paid for them, then headed for home.

There was some trial-and-error for me as I worked to find my footing using the lead came method but it didn't take long before I was feeling comfortable. Still, I was working slowly and reworking sections as I tried to be more precise. All the while I was keeping track of the number of hours I was spending on the project via my phone's stopwatch.

I finished the panel in 34 hours knowing that I could've easily shaved several hours off the overall time had I been more experienced and known more fully the problem areas to avoid. I was very pleased with the results, though.

I was surprised to find how much I was enjoying working larger. It's been fun doing the small sun-catchers this winter but the satisfaction I received working on this much larger scale was every bit as rewarding.

And so I did another!

In keeping with my love of Frank Lloyd Wright's work, I designed a window based on the Balloons and Confetti series he did. This was a fun project and I was able to complete it in 21 hours. That's considerably faster than my previous effort but there was also less difficulty involved.

My next project is off the drawing board and ready to be worked on.

Although I have the two larger panels for sale on my Etsy site, I'm actually content if nobody buys them. They serve a useful purpose where I've hung them, preventing birds from flying into the windows of our sun-porch; an occasional problem we've had.

Most years around this time I start cleaning up the glass shop in preparation for my outdoor activities. I'll often think to myself that maybe this will be the year I manage to work on a glass project or two throughout the warmer months, but I never do. This year seems different than all those other years, though, and I'd kinda like to see if I can keep it up. If history is any clue I won't be able to but I intend to try.

Who could've known the path that those curious-looking transom windows would set me on those many years ago? I love how small, seemingly meaningless things in our lives can grow to be so much more than we could ever imagine.

Of all the music that's come across my Pandora app while I've been down in the shop lately, none has caused me to hit replay more than this one. It's good music to do glasswork by!


rich kessler said...

Your beautiful story goes right along with your beautiful art. I appreciate hearing about your approach to this art, as well as your learning. Thanks Kevin.

Kevin Gilmore said...

Thanks so much for your kind words, Rich.