I like pretty, shiny things that sparkle. Like my grandmother’s rings with semi-precious stones the size of hockey rinks. Mother of pearl buttons on western shirts. And stained glass tableaus in church windows.
Just this side of Oromocto, on G’s commute to work, is Downey Stained Glass & Gifts. A typical New Brunswick house on the road through Maugerville (pronounced may-jer-ville) with a sign out front advertising the business. Brenda, the proprietor offers courses on how to make stained glass ornaments from the studio in her home. Apparently, I can spot pretty, shiny things on an 80 km/hour drive-by with no discernible loss of speed.
Taking a Closer Look at Downey Stained Glass
Interest piqued, I looked up Downey Stained Glass on Facebook. Without taking a step in the store, I signed up for a beginner’s class. My confidence was inspired by the gorgeous pieces Brenda displayed online. But this was also early days after our move to Fredericton. I considered it jumping into the community with both feet, creating opportunities to meet new friends.
And when I popped into the store to put my down payment on the course, my trust was rewarded. Brenda doesn’t just have photos, she’s got walls and windows full of gorgeous, glittering glass work. She was so friendly and welcoming, I had no doubts about walking into a class full of people I’d never met, trying my hand at a craft I knew next to nothing about. Considering the breakable, sharp and cutting nature of the element and my inherent lack of grace, well hell, you could even call me cocky.
Technically, the Glass is Always Full
Brenda’s rate for a beginner class was more than reasonable. It included two full days in her workshop, the use of her tools and her ineffable expertise. We completed four basic projects, though each was harder than the last: a simple icicle on etched glass, a red apple, a maple leaf, and a bird.
To the untrained eye, my finished work looks darn near professional. I mean, not Brenda’s well-trained eye, but to those of us who don’t notice the bumps and squiggles. The hours I spent tracing designs, cutting glass, foiling the edges and soldering the pieces had flown by. I could hardly wait to do more!
Like Riding a Bike with Sharp Edges and Burning Irons
But I did. Wait, I mean. I took me four months to get back to Downey Stained Glass. This time for the intermediate panel class. Although many of the designs around the shop are created by Brenda herself, I asked her for permission to document my work in this class to share with friends back home.
(Which I have mixed feelings about. It’s got a bestie’s name all over it and her birthday isn’t til later in the year. I can’t hardly wait to see it hanging in her kitchen window with the morning sun shining through. I will demand a photo of the tulip in its new environs! And share it here, of course.)
Again, following Brenda on Facebook, she let me know the class dates and times. I stopped in to pay for the course a few days beforehand and pick my glass colours. With the intermediate course, I needed to invest in supplies and some tools. Brenda generously lends other bigger items like the glass grinder that helps smooth edges.
I was far more nervous this time around, worried that I’d forgotten everything Brenda worked so hard to teach me. I was a little tentative with the glass cutter starting out but my only major injury occurred when I casually and carelessly leaned on a tiny ball of molten solder with my elbow.
Brenda likes to keep her class sizes small, usually four to six people. This means she can give one-on-one attention that suits individual learning styles. Which pays off considering I broke one of my flower petals right off the bat, putting me half a morning behind. And one of the other ladies had the dickens of a time with her soldering iron.
Another beauty touch is Brenda allows students to choose their own colours for their piece. In the beginner’s class, I chose yellow for my maple leaf over red or orange. I also made a blue jay rather than a cardinal. In the intermediate panel class, my glass choices were more primary while another participant chose opalescent pastels. Yet another chose the most beautiful lapis lazuli for her tulip that had me seriously questioning my own taste and colour sense.
Beauty is in the Eye of the Glass Holder
If your eye is untrained like mine and your mind is being shattered by my shiny tulip (and you’re not the bestie likely to be gifted this), please know that glass work is for the patient person who likes shiny things. You don’t have to be some famous dead person to make your own glass art happen. I, myself, am not artistic – I do my best painting with a roller. Sure, I can draw a woman who looks just like just like a bathroom sign, but trying your hand at stained glass is not a skill beyond me or you or anyone.
It’s wonderful to be given raw materials, break them apart and put them back together again in a kaleidoscope of brilliance. It takes strength to break glass and patience to wear off the edges. There’s a bit of zen in soldering the shards together into a new shape and satisfaction seeing it all come together step-by-step. No knowledge of italian necessary.
Brenda also offers classes in fusing glass, patio tables, lamp making and more. I have ideas for rainbow trout swimming up stream (opalescent!) and another panel with rosy pink cherry blossoms against a pale blue sky. G has big plans for me to do a couple of stained glass lamps. I wonder if he’ll let me choose the colours. Pretty, shiny ones, of course.