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Stained glass art has a historical and magical quality that makes it nerve-wracking to consider as a hobby. But a new glass studio in Boulder is trying to simplify the process and teach enthusiasts the complexities of the ancient art form. Colorado Glassworks offers with its courses the opportunity to create something, a work of art that is brought to life by the incidence of light. We decided to try one of the courses ourselves.
Colorado Glassworks only officially opened the doors of his Pearl Street glass studio two months ago – but his owner, Meggy Wilm, started her glass art a few years ago. In the fall of 2017, Wilm was at a crossroads in her life. Living in Denver after graduating college, she wasn’t sure what her next step would be, but she knew she was interested in stained glass.
“I always liked stained glass as a kid,” Wilm said. “I remember walking past buildings and houses and admiring glass. So I thought ‘I’m done with school I will take a stained glass class and invest in myself.”
And for the last five years, Wilm has created and sold bold artworks with themes such as wilderness, animals and plants. The next step was to share her passion by teaching others to create their own pieces.
Colorado Glassworks currently offers four different courses for all skill levels. The most popular option is the Beginning of the stained glass class Here, students will learn the basics of making stained glass art using the copper foil method. In just four two-hour sessions, students can learn everything they need to complete a medium-sized work of art to take home. All materials and tools are included in the $360 course cost.
The studio also offers other courses including a One day beginner course for those looking for a crash course, a Holiday session class and Open Studio Sessions for anyone looking for help with their project or a fun space to create.
For everyone who prefers to pursue their hobbies at home, there is one Online beginner course Possibility. Wilm offers a $100 pre-recorded course that teaches the same techniques you learn in the in-person course, but the materials and tools are not included.
Colorado Glassworks invites you to browse – it’s almost impossible to resist the invitation. Various pieces of stained glass hang on the windows, the colors of which come alive with the light. Classes take place on the right, where two large workshop tables support the scratches, burns, and shimmering pieces of glass cut by artists and students alike.
The first step, Wilm instructed him, is to choose the pane of glass you want to work on. It can be any texture or color you prefer. Whatever calls you. “It may take a while,” Wilm said, “but take your time.” It turned out that I didn’t need that much time. I immediately found a blue-green leaf with a rippled texture. It reminded me of the sea. I grabbed it with confidence, totally unaware of the problems this texture would create for me later.
Wilm went on to explain the basics of glass cutting, a prospect that intimidated me. She easily showed me the three basic shapes to learn to cut – square, circle and crescent. Each teaches different things, like working with straight lines, arcs, and curves. I was surprised to learn how much pressure it takes to get through the class. It seemed like it would break if I used too much force, but Wilm assured me it would hold up. The trick was listening for a grating, continuous sound the blade makes against the glass, meaning the glass would break easily if I applied pressure with the pliers.
On a smooth piece of glass, this task seemed easy. But now I need to cut the shape on my fluted sheet of glass. The choice had already been made. There was no turning back. Many mistakes were made, but Wilm was reassuring about all of them.
After cutting a few geometrically flawed shapes and a few nicks on my fingers—an occupational hazard, Wilm assured me—we went to the grinder to smooth the edges of my piece of glass, Wilm’s least favorite part. Surprisingly, I found it calming. This is where my piece began to resemble the shape it was meant to be. Suddenly, my mistakes didn’t feel so bad.
The last and most exciting part was the foil method and soldering. Since lead doesn’t stick to glass, we first taped copper foil around the rim of the glass. Once that was done, the fun began. By heating a piece of lead with a soldering machine, it becomes liquid and magically adheres to the copper foil that wraps around the edges of the glass. It was scary working with an extremely heated tool and liquid lead sometimes dripping onto the wood surface. But once I successfully completed a line, it became relaxing. This last step gives the glass stability, explains Wilm. In addition, it complements the aesthetics of the lead lining, which is essential to stained glass work.
As I watched Wilm demonstrate how to work with this unpredictable liquid lead, I realized it wasn’t her teaching me how to work with stained glass but how to embrace the imperfections that come with it. Every time I thought I made a mistake, she assured me it would work.
“Stained glass is a very rigid art, but it can also be very forgiving,” Wilm said. “Sometimes when your glass pieces aren’t perfect, you can often compensate. You can build gaps with extra solder. I like that there is some forgiveness. It is totally imperfect.”
Once I got the hang of it, I wanted to solder every piece of glass I could find. It was a side effect I didn’t expect. I thought of all the other parts I could cut and solder together. Maybe I could make a flower or a starry sky. How do mosaics work? However, the two hour course was over and by the end I had a perfectly imperfect honeycomb glass piece with the color and feel of the ocean.
Stained glass work is intimidating at first, but it is a very indulgent and meditative art form. Once you master the basic techniques, you can build up more complicated pieces. The glass cracked? Try a new one. The line you cut isn’t straight? Grind it into shape. Too much solder on your piece? Impossible. Goofing up is encouraged and the mistakes will be beautiful no matter what. With Wilm’s encouraging teaching method, you will soon discover inner creativity you may not have known you had. If you’re looking for a relaxing yet invigorating way to spend your Saturdays, Colorado Glassworks will no doubt have it for you.
Colorado Glassworks is open Tuesday through Friday from 1:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. and Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. For more information on courses and costs, visit the official website or Instagram.