It has taken many years and a great deal of training to come to the awareness of working with glass in an instinctive way. It is a lot of doing. You practice and practice and you fail a lot, or you have a really good teacher who helps you to get one step ahead of the frontier of art.
I studied with the best teachers in the world. I was lucky. They taught me and I was fortunate, people don’t always have that.
I went to the best schools that were offered in the world and I studied with the best designers in the world. Top designers, European designers who had installed hundreds of thousands of windows, and they taught me all this. I studied with the best glasscutter to learn how to cut glass. So you study with the best and learn from the best, and then you can pass it all on to your students. This way the learning carries on. And you have to teach all your knowledge from your teachers to your students so that the knowledge carries on. Because you want it to carry on, or else the quality of glass goes down hill.
When I started my career I started small. First I did some art fairs, I just started putting candleholders together, and little windows, sun catchers. I sold those, but I really didn’t know how to do glass. I read books and I kind of made it up and I took a few classes. Then one day someone asked me to do a window for them. I did the window for them and I wasn’t satisfied with the quality of the window.
So I got a job with a company that put together windows for churches, businesses, restaurants, and residential work, and worked for architects. I learned how to build those types of windows. In a sense I studied within a really good company, and I learned what to do and what not to do, and within a year I became the number one fabricator. Then I could teach the other people working within the studio how to do windows. Through that process I became a teacher.
The company I worked for was called The Glassworks in Bellevue Washington. From there I went to Pilchuck Glass School, which was also in Washington State. It was a school developed by Dale Chihuly who is America’s foremost glass blower. So he put together a school that attracted the best designers from around the world and I studied with a designer named Ludwig Schaffrath from Germany. I studied with him for two years and I was his prized student. I put together some windows for him in the class. From there I studied with Johannes Schreider who was another German designer. I studied with Paul Marioni who I had studied with after the Glassworks. He is probably the best glasscutter in this country. He taught me how to build a window correctly and gave me a lot of good hands-on fabrication work.
From there I studied with designers. And we really didn’t put together windows, we designed windows. I think stained glass is a craft. It is hands on, you cut glass and you cut lead, so it’s a craft, but in terms of art the art comes into play in the design. So if you want to become an artist in stained glass you study design. You can study design through painting, you can study design through sketching, but you have to study design. There are so many mediums and forms of design out there, not just stained glass. In fact it’s good to not study stained glass but to work with other artists and study design work to become prolific in your design sense.