In the beginning of summer, I started working with a client to make a gift for his wife. She had recently given birth to a baby, had a “big birthday,” and gotten her first call to serve a church as a senior minister which required them to move to a new part of the state. He was really proud of her and wanted to commemorate all of this with a stained glass window. We talked through a lot of options with a variety of imagery and also discussed whether or not this would be a surprise gift. I suggested sometimes gifts are most satisfying when the recipient can offer some input. I developed 3 sketches which he gave to her and asked her if she would like to be part of the process. She was thrilled and they both came to my studio and talked about which one they liked most. We had a deep conversation about becoming parents, moving, setting down roots, faith, and nature. I learned we both love the way light filters through tree branches and leaves; we talked about the similar quality that glass has, changing as light passes through it. One of the first sketches I had drawn was of a tree but it needed modifications so when she sent me some photographs that she had taken of trees, I used them as inspiration and drew this colorized sketch. From there, she asked if I would make the top portion more full and I drew a full sized sketch with more leaves. It has been fun to work with them on this sketch which is on it’s way to becoming my template to create her window. Sometimes this part of the process take a while but it is the critical stage at which a custom piece becomes exactly what the client is looking for.
Back in June and July, I shared some photos of these windows under construction. My client had asked me to reproduce a design from another pair of stained glass windows she has in her home but to change the color layout. The original windows have a fair amount of yellow but when I sent her a photograph of the new windows with the same amount of yellow, she asked me to change that as well. This photograph, taken by David Glasofer, shows the completed windows which I installed in August. My client’s home is eclectic, colorful, and filled with pieces of art she has gathered in her travels. I’m pleased that these windows occupy a central spot in her front room. She said she enjoys drinking her coffee in the morning and looking out through them. The use of a consistent design keeps them harmonious with the others in her house. And the colors make them distinctive. I try not to insist on any particular element when I’m creating a commission for a client but I’m really glad we swapped out the yellow!
Many years ago, I entered an art show in a town about 30 miles from where I live, where the main requirement was that you were a current or former social worker or therapist. The gallery director invited all the artists to a unique reception where a lively conversation ensued about the role of art in our lives and work. While the event itself was really special, a highlight for me was that I met a woman who lives basically around the corner from me who is an artist and therapist. Over the years, the gallery moved but the social worker show continued as an annual event. Lynn and I stayed in touch in the neighborhood and also saw each other occasionally at the annual show. Recently, the gallery director relocated to Emerge Gallery in Saugerties, NY. Although the social work show seems to have faded out, he recently posted a call to artists for a show using recycled materials. I reached out to my neighbor about creating a collaborative piece and we had a blast working together, talking, laughing and getting to know each other better. This piece, entitled “holding space…” is the result and, while we have yet to enter it into the show, it has been such a pleasure to work with her. During the process, we talked a lot about our daughters who are both entering new phases of their lives and how that impacts us as mothers. While our situations are different, we shared many of the same feelings which we reflected on in the creation of this piece. We discussed how motherhood often requires the contradictory efforts of “holding” (bringing in/ gathering/ cherishing) and also “space” (letting go/ allowing for openings). Maybe you got that just from looking at the piece??? Well, if not, there’s plenty of room for interpretation. Whether or not the piece is accepted into the show, I have grown from the experience of working with my dear neighbor, who I now also call my friend.
In 2010, I opened my studio and, truthfully, I have only really cleaned it 9 times since then. Of course I sweep the studio floors, wipe down the work benches, and vacuum the carpet in my office fairly regularly. But for a deep clean, I allot time at the end of each summer to do my annual studio clean up. My kids were little when the studio first opened and they would “help “ in the process which used to take a number of days due to their short attention spans and limited interest in cleaning. There was always a payment of some sort and a yummy lunch was mandatory. As they’ve gotten older, their ability and willingness to participate has changed. My daughter and I were talking today about the year my son refused to participate. He agreed to build my website which I felt was a fair exchange; she did not. This year with my son living in Pittsburgh, it was again just Abby and me. And even though it’s more effort with only two people, she is a hard worker, doesn’t complain and makes me laugh a lot. At one point, at the end of the day, we were both sweating, covered in various cleaning products, dirt, and spider webs. Due to a simultaneous driveway repair project, we had only a small patch of concrete to roll out a bunch of equipment. She had also polyurethaned the stairs so we were basically trapped in the studio. And that’s when we heard it— the sweet, tinny melody the ice cream man was playing as he rolled down the street. We looked at each other, I grabbed a few dollars and we both vaulted over the stairs and went flying down the street, waving our arms. When we finally caught up to him, we were both winded and laughing so hard we could barely speak. But he kindly waited for us to get it together and then took a picture with Abby. Exhausted and dirty, we couldn’t stop laughing as we ate our treats. My funny girl leaves for college next week and I cherish every minute she spends with me. I hope the sound of her laughter never leaves my head.
After last week’s heat wave, this Sunday’s forecast is for sunny skies, low 90’s, and FUN! Metuchen is hosting a unique art event on the plaza with 6 artists being presented with a container of recycled material which they will have 3 hours to turn into art. I can’t wait to see what these amazingly creative people come up with! I am excited to be participating in a different way; I will have a table of recycled artwork that I have been creating, some of which is still in the kiln as of the time I’m writing this blog post! That’s because it has been awfully hot, both for welding and running the kiln. But with the slight break in temperature, I have been creating flowers out of welded railroad spikes and glass and flattening wine bottles to create cheese trays. I hope you are able to come by and check out all the different ways artists find to turn trash into treasure!
The last time I posted about this window, I had just started switching out much of the yellow glass to blue at my customer’s request. That was 3 weeks ago and, here I am, still chiseling away- almost literally! But instead of a chisel I use a dental tool, like the ones they use to scrape the plaque off your teeth at the dentist. This part of the process of creating a stained glass window is super slow and a bit tedious but it’s really important for the structure of the window. To create a leaded window, glass pieces slot into lead came which looks like a sideways capital letter H. In between the lead and the glass, there’s a bit of a gap. So for every seam, black putty has to be pushed under the came; it hardens to keeps the glass firmly in place. In order to help with the hardening process, an appropriately named dusty substance called whiting is sprinkled all over the window. Left over putty remains on the glass and that’s where the dental tool comes in. After it has dried for a few days, the putty has to be cleaned off and I’ve found this dental tool to be the best way to get at it. Every piece has to be scraped, front and back. I vacuum the whole thing repeatedly as I scrape and, ultimately, it will be ready for polishing. At the end of the day, sometimes all I have done is scrape putty. I try to be zen about it. And when that fails, I put on a podcast. So if any of you have suggestions about your favorite podcast, I’d love to hear them and I’ll share my favorites with you. Until next time, I’ll just be here, scraping away…
Creating commissions always involves some back and forth with my clients. I like to begin with a design and develop that in black and white until it looks exactly how the client wants it. At that point, I help them select the glass that I will use to make the window. In this case, my client has a similar window in her home that she asked me to match in terms of design. The colored glass in that window is primarily blue with small bits of yellow and red. My client asked me to use two shades of red in places where her existing window has two shades of blues. Initially she selected purple glass for one of the borders. As the window was coming together, I decided to send her the first picture above. I always feel like my client’s opinion about how something looks is most important. I wanted her to see how it was coming together to decide if she felt the purple border was still what she wanted. She said she no longer wanted to have the purple border and she said she really didn’t like the yellow either. So I backtracked and switched out the yellow for a lighter blue. Doing this gave me the opportunity to photograph each version and take a look at how the color combinations create a very different feeling. In the first one, the vibrancy of the yellow grabs your eye. In the second one, the colors appear more balanced. Neither way is right or wrong; it depends on personal taste. Sometimes it takes a bit more effort to create a custom piece that is pleasing to the client but the extra work is what makes the window something they are happy to see in their home each day.
Sometimes when I walk into a client’s home, I am blown away by their decorating. I can’t wait to create and install stained glass windows because I know they will look just right with their decor. That was the case when I met my clients in Monroe, NJ. They wanted some privacy around their front door; the windows to the left and right of the door are called sidelights and the one above is a transom. My clients had a general feeling about the colors and designs they liked and suggested they might want a dove incorporated into the transom. I drew a few sketches and helped them determine that they could use textured clear glass in the background to provide privacy while also letting in a lot of light. Often when I complete a commission, I have my photographer friend, David Glasofer of Image Up Studio, take photographs of my work before I install it. But, in this case, I asked him to come with me to their home to take photos of the windows installed in order to show how they look in their picturesque entryway. I wish I could take credit for the whole space but I only added a piece to their puzzle. The stained glass windows I created are functional because of the privacy they provide but their true beauty comes from how they tie into their lovely home.
Last fall, Transformations Gallery unveiled our new outdoor exhibit space, featuring the work of Kim Adlerman, Joe LaMattina, and Enrique Zaldivar. On my blog on August 31, 2018, I shared a “before” picture of the doors these artists transformed into their vision of what a door meant to them. We were so inspired by their work that we asked them to come back and create another show together, this time hanging a variety of new work inside the gallery. The reception for this new show, Outside Looking In, is tonight from 7-9 pm at Transformations Gallery, inside the Old Franklin Schoolhouse. The event is free and open to the public and light refreshments will be served. Although I have known these artists for a while and have seen much of their artwork, I was blown away by a few pieces (if you come tonight, we can discuss which ones are our favorites!). Plus these artists are 3 of the kindest, funniest, most enthusiastic people I know. They are people you want to spend time with and that’s key. Because being a talented ANYTHING is important but being a fabulous person is what we should all be striving for— great art, wonderful people! Come hang out with us tonight— you won’t regret it!
People commissions me to make gifts for all sorts of different occasions: birthdays, Christmas, bar & bat mitzvahs, retirement celebrations, anniversaries, etc. But this was the first time I was commissioned by a young man to create a gift for the president of his high school. He explained to me that he wanted to commission the piece as a thank you for the four great years he’s had in that school. It was really fun to work with him. He knew he wanted to include the Virgin Mary, in traditional colors, and that he wanted to depict her holding a clipper ship with a North Star above the ship. He shared their logo with me so I could use the font and I set out to create this design and construct the piece. For the water, I chose this beautiful, heavily textured glass because I love how it evokes the sea through both the colors and the waves. Knowing that this background would occupy a lot of space, I wanted to make use of all the different colors within the glass; it changes throughout the piece. For the North Star, I fused some pieces of sparkly dichroic glass which draws your eye to it like a real star. And finally, to offset the name of the president, I used a different blue glass that still looks like water but was light enough to allow the painting of his name to be visible. I used that same glass higher up in the piece to draw the viewer’s eye around and make it harmonious. I hope Mr. Alesi is happy— congratulations for making such a positive impact on your student. Best wishes to all!
The school year is winding down and I’ve been acutely aware of the passing of time as I have two commissions to finish and deliver before the final bell rings. So most days this week, you could find me sitting on the floor of my studio with a toothbrush, two bottles of patina, a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser and this tree. Regular readers of the blog might recall that I spent a lot of time in April sitting on the floor attaching branches and then, in early May, sitting on the floor wrapping the tree in copper wire; this tree has involved a lot of hours of sitting on the floor! The patina I was applying with the toothbrush darkens the metal but I wanted to keep some of the glittery copper peaking through; that’s where the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser came in. After applying the patina, I would scrub some of it off—basically patina on, patina off— until it was simultaneously dark and glittery. Attached to some of the branches are clusters of red glass cherries which were part of a drawing I used as inspiration for this tree. Perched on a branch is a little bird and, if you look carefully, you can see inside her chest is a red glass heart. Within the next few weeks, I will deliver this piece to James Monroe Elementary School in Edison, NJ where it will stand in the courtyard as a tribute to a beautiful girl who lived her short life with courage and joy. Her spirit lives on in the foundation that bears her name, the Marisa Tufaro Foundation.
We just put out a call to artists for a show that will hang at Transformations Gallery from September through December of this year. Although it is only May, there are a lot of things that have to happen before this show will hang. Artists have to hear about the show, decide on work they want to submit, and prepare their submission. We have to gather their submissions, look at the pieces in relation to each other, and decide on what artwork to accept. Then there’s the notification process, creating a layout for the gallery space, designing and creating title cards, a show flyer, press releases, planning for the delivery of artwork… The list goes on and on. So, in about 4 months, the result of all this work will be a beautiful show with the theme of HOPE which my co-curator, Judy Weinberg, and I think is something we all need a lot more of right now. And as I think ahead in my own personal life, there are about to be some major changes in the next 4 months that need a large dose of HOPE as well. My son, who has been on a medical leave of absence from college as the result of a major concussion, is going to start attending school again. My daughter is going to graduate high school and start her first semester of college. And, in September, my husband and I will be the only people living in our house for the first time in over 20 years! In a similar way that I think about the gallery show, I think about all the things that are going to need to come together in my world in the next 4 months to make that all happen smoothly. To fill the gap between the things we can and can’t control, I reach for hope. We can’t wait to see how the artists who submit their work to this show will depict what hope means to them.
Like many businesses, my workflow gets pushed around by ordering materials and managing deadlines. I’m creating a sculpture for James Monroe Elementary School and I’m hoping to complete it before the end of the school year. I had placed an order for this copper wire last week and was waiting for it to arrive. So to keep moving my projects forward, I focused on a window commission with an end of the school year deadline. Quickly I realized I needed to go to the glass store for supplies to create that. And while I was making my list for the glass store, I decided I should also get supplies for another commission that I will be starting shortly. The result is that my studio is now full of piles of metal and glass, a jumble of lists, and drawings in various stages of completion. It’s pretty chaotic and was starting to make me a little stressed. But then it occurred to me, my projects are rolling into spring just the way the land around me is. Some days are cold, dark and rainy and it seems like nothing is happening. Other days, the sun is shining, flowers of every different color are popping out and trees are bursting with leaves and new growth. Outside and in, it’s kind of a mess right now (seriously, enough yellow pollen!) but the abundance feels great. Happy Spring!
Another work in progress! This copper tree is part of a commission for James Monroe elementary school in Edison, NJ. On March 1, I blogged about the bird that will be perched in this tree and now the tree is starting to take shape. Because the process of constructing this tree is new to me, I’ve been struggling a bit with how to attach the branches. My idea was to temporarily affix them with epoxy and then wrap the entire tree in copper wire for texture and interest. But the epoxy has been giving me problems and I wasn’t sure this would work. Over the past few days, I spent a lot of time sitting on the floor of my studio, fiddling with wire, tubing, epoxy, screws, and tape. I decided to do a test branch and wrapped it with wire to see how it would hold— and it worked! So I ordered 10 rolls of 18 gauge copper wire (a total of 2,000 yds. which I hope will be enough). I also had the idea to make a little owl who is tucked into a hole in the tree— you can see the top of his head peaking up at the bottom of the photo. He is a visual reference to the school’s mascot and a tie in with the commission I created for them last year. So much more to do but it’s coming along, little by little.
I’m starting on the 4th in a series of lamp commissions that I have been working on— and blogging about— for over a year (the first time I blogged about them was March 16, 2018). This time, my clients purchased a lovely Robert Abbey lamp, which included the metal shade shown on the left of this photo. The hardware is beautiful and functional and the idea is to swap out the metal shade with a custom stained glass shade that compliments the other 3 lamps that I had made for them previously. Since the size of the accompanying shade feels right, I used those dimensions to begin creating the stained glass shade. I decided to create cardboard models in different shapes with the same top and bottom opening and length of the original shade. Using circles the same size as each end of the metal cone, I started drawing on paper and then cutting the sides out of cardboard. I created the four-sided shape first but it seemed too boxy and clunky. As soon as I drew the eight sided shape, I knew the sides would be too tight around the light bulb and it looked too fussy. It was the Goldilocks problem: one was too big and the other was too small. The logical choice was a six sided shape, a hexagon, but this tested my geometry skills as I reached way back into my brain to divide the circles into six equal parts; true story, I finally gave up and watched more YouTube videos. You might notice in the photo above, the paper divided into 6 pieces is not here. That’s because it was measured and remeasured, cut apart and put back together until it was unrecognizable but, ultimately, it gave me the measurements I needed to build the cardboard model. And that’s where it stands today—the size, shape and dimensions feel right to me. I will be sharing this with my clients and, if they approve it, it’s on to creating the pattern. More to come…
Before I had kids in high school, it sounded like so much fun to go through the process of deciding where they would go to college. I thought of the college trips we would take, the tours, all the options for them to go learn, experience, and explore… And then we arrived at this point— two years ago for my son and this year for my daughter. The truth is: it is exciting but it’s also really stressful. Considering all the changes this decision brings means each one of us has melted down a few times during the process, maybe me most of all. Because, to me, this is probably the end of having these lovely people living in our home which has been our reality for 20 years. My son decided on a school that is a 6 hour drive away and that makes it tough to squeeze into a weekend. Having seen the challenges that distance brought, my daughter kept her search a bit closer but for a while was leaning towards the Washington, DC area since she’s interested in International Relations. However, during her search process, she found the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall and things began to change. The program seems amazing with its access to internships in New York City as well as the opportunity to study in Washington DC for a semester if she wants. The caliber of professors and students in the program made this her first choice and it doesn’t hurt that it’s a 40 minute drive away. So her decision is made— she’s going to be a Pirate! Ahoy!
The current show hanging at Transformations Gallery at the Old Franklin Schoolhouse features photographs from the archives of the Metuchen- Edison Historical Society. Some were recently acquired and some have been there for decades, highlighting the fact that while the archives may hold images of the past, our knowledge and understanding of the past is always growing. What interests me the most is that behind each image is a story; the people that are captured at each moment in time were experiencing their lives in much the same way, around the same familiar places, that we do today. Looking at others sitting on the steps of a school that we may have sat on ourselves or hanging out at the Metuchen train station, dressed for a special occasion, connects us with them in a special way. There’s a great image of some men fooling around riding bikes and the look of joy on their faces is one I have seen on my friends’ faces when they are laughing and having a great time. There are images of children who look sad and a few of a football team who look so cool and confident it feels like they may have just walked off the field after winning the game. It’s easy to feel that the situations we are experiencing today and the feelings they create are new but they are only new to us. Looking back to see people in familiar places doing the things we all do reminds us that history runs through us all; that perspective grounds us in the human experience.
For the past five years, I have had the pleasure of working with a Metuchen High School student intern. The program pairs interested high school students with local businesses to provide an inside look at how work gets done. Each year, the students who have come to spend a few hours per week with me have been really interesting, motivated kids. They come to my studio after spending a full day at school and often before they head off to other activities at night. I’ve been fortunate that they all have been flexible and willing to work on different projects each time. This year, my intern is a sophomore whose favorite medium is oil paint but she’s had no problem jumping in to learn screen printing, mobile making and cutting glass to make jewelry. She’s enthusiastic, funny and willing to learn and try. For her, I hope the experience is helping her see from the inside that running an art business can be both chaotic and mundane, depending on the day. Ultimately she may not go into a career in art but I think that the same can be said about almost all jobs— some days are fun and crazy and others are more routine. Whether it’s through an internship, a summer job, or a part-time job during the school year, I think the practical knowledge that can be gained outside of the classroom offers valuable lessons for teenagers. And I truly enjoy the opportunity to share my business with these great kids!
Since much of my work consists of residential commissions, I value a good photograph to share with future clients. Unless you’re friends with or family of my clients, you will probably not see this window which is now installed in their home. However, a great photograph allows me to share it. And that becomes my question as I get ready for an installation— what makes a great photograph? I own a decent camera but I don’t have a lot of photography skills or Photoshop knowledge and glass is tricky to photograph. Sometimes I get lucky but other times my attempts fall short. In photographing this window, there’s the issue of the clear glass in the center. Although it’s textured, when you look at the clear glass you see through to what’s on the other side. Sometimes a photograph taken of the window installed looks lovely as you can see through to the outside but other times I like the image to look clean as was the case with this. Also, for some reason, red is a hard color to photograph- it tends to look kind of orange. Additionally there are textures and bevels that are such a big part of the beauty of glass but that are hard to capture unless you know what you’re doing. I blogged about this window on February 1 when it was a work in progress on my workbench; the image I shared then was what I could manage but I’m so happy I decided to take the finished piece to my friend, David Glasofer of Image Up Studio who takes such time and care with photographing my work (and, of course, with all the work he shoots). If you have the good fortune to be friends with or family of my clients, you’re lucky because they are wonderful people. And also because you can see this window in person which is how it looks the best. But if not, thanks to David, you can still see a really terrific photograph of it!