My involvement with craft began with my mother. Her interests
tended to be in the area of colonial era craftwork. She primarily did tole painting
- that is, the painting of tinware. She also played around with things like reverse
painting on glass, embroidery, and stencil painting on fabric. We kids were all exposed
to some form of craftwork from an early age. My sisters did things like crochet and
macrame while I was given things like wood burning. There were many possibilities
thrown at us with the hope that something would stick. Stained glass was introduced
when I was 12 or so and it stuck.
I first saw someone working in stained glass at the Guilford
Handcrafts Exposition, in Guilford Connecticut. This was in the late 1960's, during
a unique variation of the Arts & Crafts revival. Unlike the Arts & Crafts
movement in the early part of the 20th century, there was not much emphasis on the
superior value of the handmade object. This was more like craft as leisure activity
- craft as hobby. Nevertheless, they were making handmade things, and I was fascinated.
I began as a hobbyist not long after this. It was simply something I enjoyed doing.
My mother died when I was a teenager. Though I never made
a conscious decision to become an artist to follow in her footsteps, I realize now
that she had a lasting positive influence on me. Yet she never claimed to be an artist.
She never did an original design in her life - her designs were all lifted from historical
works or from design books. She did beautiful work and had a great facility with
a brush. But from a 20th century vantage point, where originality is everything,
she was not an artist. She was content with doing an activity she enjoyed and making
beautiful things. There was no sense of pretension.
I had no teacher, no mentor in those early days. Just a
few hobbyist-type pattern books which I never quite followed exactly. I soon began
to see that the discovery of design was the most intriguing aspect of the work for
me. Thinking out ideas, feeling out different approaches, creating the structure,
working with a design, translating it to glass, seeing if the materials will work
with that design or not. These all intrigued me the most. Pattern books and how-to
kits are anathema to me now, even as a teaching aid. I diddled around with stained
glass as a teenager until, much dissatisfied with college, I left and went into the
world to be an 'artist'.
So, saying with the sweet arrogance of youth that I wished
to leave school so that I could get an education, I turned to working in stained
glass. (at the time, I actually wished to become a film animator, but that's another
story...) As I began my professional career in stained glass, I became more and more
fascinated by the light transmitted through the glass and how that light was even
more vibrant when there was metal to contrast it. I was hooked. Eventually I became
exposed to and intrigued by other processes as well, such as painting on glass, and
etching flashed glass. Processes that were very much out of fashion when I came of
age. The only artists using painting on a regular basis where old timer stained glass
studio types who designed gothic style windows and referred to it as 'real stained
It was a few years into my professional life that I began
to develop my own voice. One that featured a running discourse on style and substance.
In the tradition of my mother, I do remain something of a historicist. Though not
in the sense that I'm trying to go back to some mythically better, purer form of
stained glass. I'm not interested in merely mimicking historical styles. I play with
a style or approach, often by combining it with another style or approach. Just to
see what will happen. But I never aspire to 'be' that style.
The Guilford Handicrafts Exposition still goes on. But the
world of crafts has changed. Divisiveness seems to prevail. Arguments persist over
what is art and what is craft, sometimes even what is 'fine craft' and what is 'country
craft'. The original purveyors of 60's craft shows distance themselves from the lower
classes of craft, derisively referring to them as 'geese and gingham'. To this I
continue to say - Dare to be tacky.
What I mean by this is having the courage to be influenced
by artistic forms not considered artistically valid by the so-called experts. Art
either not fashionable at the time (Swiss stained glass 'cabinet' pieces are still
considered part of the decline of stained glass by most historians... I'm fascinated
by them) or imagery considered too low for use in serious art (such as cartoon art).
I'm interested in expanding the graphical language available
to stained glass. I'm doing that through the use of imagery from puzzle pictures,
children's book illustrations, comic book art; or from quilting traditions, weaving
processes or fabric design; or from graphic design, poster and advertising art. Not
for any wry or sophisticated commentary on social and cultural mores, but simply
as an acknowledgment that these ideas and approaches have come into the world of
artistic expression and need to be explored. These, to me, are as valid as the great
and good works of stained glass history, and certainly just as valid as all the contemporary,
'serious' explorations of Glass Art.