Stained glass studio works to keep the art-type alive
Kayleigh Bywater | Senior Staff Writer
Using the tips of her fingers and concentration in her eyes, Christie Wood delicately places a copper-lined piece of glass among already-assembled shards..
A whitish-grey piece is nestled into the design, and she places a large pushpin into the table to secure her work. She then lifts her hands up in accomplishment. In front of her lies the glass image of a lighthouse, and next to her lies a pile of similar pieces waiting to be made into the same image.
The design as a whole is only a few inches tall as it is wide, but the final product will be part of a bigger picture: admiration for decades to come.
Wood owns and operates Art Glass Ensembles, the sole stained glass studio in Denton. Originally set in Pennsylvania, Wood opened her business in 1993 to create unique pieces while showcasing her artistic and technical stained glass abilities.
“We moved in 2001 because Denton was No. 1 of our choices of places we would want to get settled in,” Wood said. “About a third of my business is repair, a third of it is new construction and the last third is my wholesale business. I’m definitely unique to Denton.”
Previously a computer analyst, Wood began to do stained glass as a hobby. With no formal background in art and a bachelor’s degree in music education, Wood said she wanted to jump into something new and meaningful.
“My hobby sort of outgrew the hobby stage quickly,” Wood said. “I was looking for a medium where I could create something that would hopefully outlive me, just like a composer creates a piece of music that will hopefully outlive them and be performed continuously. I took one course and discovered that I was a natural.”
The stained glass process is not one that is quickly and easily learned, according to Wood. The process can take years to master and is a different medium than other art forms, which is why she feels the stained glass community may be dwindling.
“There are very few stained glass artists now,” Wood said. “In fact, the numbers are getting smaller and smaller. This is a very labor-intensive type of artwork, and a lot of people aren’t willing to put in that time to learn how to do it and then to actually [create] it.”
To create a stained glass piece, Wood starts off with a design and prints the full image to where it looks like a jigsaw puzzle. Each piece has a specific color it’s grouped with, so she glues the design pieces on top of the appropriate piece of glass in order to score or cut it.
After all the pieces are cut evenly and fit together, Wood wraps each piece in copper or lead foil, which creates the lines between the various pieces of glass, and begins to construct the design. This includes soldering the glass into place, glazing the final product and cleaning it for its new home.
“I usually have five projects going simultaneously,” Wood said. “Say I have one project in the kiln, while that’s going on I’m setting up a new project. I’m usually working on something all the time while I’m here.”
Despite the large amount of projects, Wood has four assistants willing to gain more experience in stained glass who help out around the shop.
Monique McIntyre has been working with Wood for around a year, but has been surrounded by stained glass since she was a young girl in Detroit. McIntyre said when it comes to creating stained glass, however, there’s more that goes into the piece than just the tiny details.
“It’s a great art outlet for me, aside my own abstract paintings I do on the side,” McIntyre said. “But stained glass is just a part of history. It’s been around for ages and it’s such a unique art form, but at the same time it seems to be becoming less of an importance to people.”
Because she is one person in the small population of stained glass artists in the country, Wood has created pieces that now reside in locations such as Alaska, California and New Zealand. Since there are not many certified stained glass makers in the area, her artistry has also gotten her to the Oscars.
For one of her favorite book series, “The Hobbit,” Wood was commissioned to create a set of six “Lord of the Rings” pieces as part of the Oscar party in Hollywood when the first Hobbit movie came out.
She also creates custom pieces for display all over Texas. The three-dimensional “Pops” monument in Quakertown Park is a Wood original. Additionally, she participated in a 64-window repair, destroyed in a fire, for the First United Methodist Church in Mercedes, Texas. The project took over a year to complete, including living on-site for a month.
“Most artists will paint something and sell it, then it will be hung on a wall,” Wood said. “With us, we have this hole in existence that we need to plan on filling with something that isn’t created yet.”
Wood said one rewarding part of creating stained glass is seeing her customer’s attachment to the piece. Longtime client and friend Debbie Vanderlaan of Vanderlaan Real Estate has had Wood create pieces for churches in the area, as well as various homes.
One piece in particular, Vanderlaan said, means so much to her that she asked Wood to come take the piece out of her house and install it into their new home.
“She looks at the art you have and your decorative style and takes it from there,” Vanderlaan said. “She’s dedicated to making sure the pieces you receive are ones you’ll cherish, which is why I had her go through the trouble of getting a piece out so it could stay with me.”
Although she enjoys all the work, Wood is ready to start settling her business down a bit. She no longer teaches art classes at her storefront and doesn’t pursue as big of projects as she once did.
“I’ve just gotten too busy,” Wood said. “I’m to the point to where I’m 60-years-old, and I’ve been doing this for 21 years now. When I was younger, I could do everything myself. But it takes a lot of physical strength to do this job. A job like that [Mercedes, Texas] job, I would turn down now.”
She isn’t stopping anytime soon, however. Wood said that even if she didn’t get any more business at the moment, she’d have enough work to last her until December.
In the meantime, Wood hopes to find someone willing to step in and take her place in her business. Even though she has potential candidates, she said she really wants to see more people step in to the art of stained glass.
“Stained glass really requires a passion and a dedication,” Wood said. “There’s a lot of people who say they want to be an artist, but when it comes time to actually making a living, they can’t see beyond oil paints or watercolors. The population who knows how to do it are aging out.”
Until she finds a successor, Wood hopes to continue making an impact with her stained-glass skills. Although pieces can take months to complete or jobs may be strenuous, she cares more about the connection behind the pieces than retiring.
“Even though a piece may not be a Tiffany-original or be small in size, they ultimately mean something to someone,” Wood said. “Every piece is worth repairing, restoring and continuing on through the ages.”
Featured Image: Some projects that Christie and her assistant work on at Art Glass Ensembles require them to make multiple pieces that look identical. Tristan Miller | Staff Photographer
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