Sunday, March 8, 2015

My Very First Stained Glass Class

Shalom, chaverim! I'm excited to say that I have now completed my first stained glass class and even made my own tiny little project. Elul and I went up to the beautiful--achingly beautiful, in fact--city of Vancouver, British Columbia, yesterday, and I had a lesson with a lovely man named Shane Edwards.

I connected with Shane via Craiglist, and from his picture, talking to him on the phone, and exchanging a few emails, I felt pretty secure that he wasn't going to be some kind of ax murderer. Elul wasn't so sure, however, so he came with me to Shane's front door just to sniff around protectively, so to speak. Everything seemed fine (and it was), so he took off for a couple of hours while I took my class. As it turns out, Elul wisely spent the time getting a wonderful chair massage in some neighborhood where they had lots of old Asian men offering chair massages and reflexology treatments.

The class was terrific. Shane spelled things out very clearly and had me do each step of the work myself, which boosted my confidence. We started out by picking pieces that we were going to use for our respective pieces, out of a pile of off-cuts from previous projects. After assembling them into the shape I wanted--in this case a kind of representational tulip form--I drew an outline around each piece so I could remember how to assemble them when it came time to solder.

Shane Allen, ready to teach me stained glass. Apologies for the unfocused shot; my camera lens is acting up!

Then, it was time to file some of the rough edges on the pieces, and then wrap each one with copper foil around the edges of each piece of glass. This was a lovely activity--about as engaging as knitting, without the need to count stitches--and gave Shane and I a chance to talk. We talked about our respective upbringings, and also about stained glass as an art form. We both agree that lots of stained glass hobby work these days is pretty conservative and very "safe." Who can get in trouble for doing stained glass objects featuring cats, or mallard ducks, or rainbows? There's nothing wrong with those pieces, of course, but they are rather repetitive when you go to craft show after craft show and see the same types of work. Of course, that's probably because people like them and they sell!

I am determined, however, to create pieces that are edgier and make more of  a statement. Indeed, why can't stained glass be provocative and thought-provoking? Judging from some rather libidinous Roman mosaics I've seen in the past, there's nothing like a canvas of any form to be a platform for social commentary and bold personal expression.

Revolutionary fervor and lofty discussions about art aside, it was soon time to get to the real business end of stained glass: the soldering. I'm happy to say that even though I'd never soldered anything in my life, with Shane's good form to follow, I did all right. The piece stuck together, and looked nice at the end. I filled in all the gaps created by pieces that wouldn't sit flush against each other, covered all the rest of the copper foil with solder to strengthen it, and then soldered on a hanging hook in the back,

Then it was time to wash off the flux, which is kind of a gooey paste that you spread on areas you want to solder. I did that, and then was thrilled to put my new piece up to the light.

My first piece. I have yet to get one of those suction-cup hangy-thingies to let it actually hang on the glass.
One final step that I chose not to do was to add black patina to the solder, which turns the silver to black, giving a piece that leaded-glass look. Although it looks black in the picture, the piece actually has silver solder on it. Time itself will turn the solder black, but until then, I'll enjoy the piece in its lighter, more ethereal state.

Quite satisfied with our day, Elul and I said goodbye and took a beautiful drive through a very high-end neighborhood in Vancouver, so we can see how the 1% live over the border. The cherry and plum blossoms were all in bloom, and it was a gorgeous, bright, cool day without a cloud in the sky. Driving back to Bellingham, we indulged ourselves in numerous stunning views of Mt. Baker.

Mt. Baker, also known as Komo Kulshan--the original Lummi and Nooksack name.
So that was lesson one in my career as a stained glass artist. Now the job is to get my own tools and materials to get started with my own pieces, and to continue learning with Shane and with other teachers I cross paths with in the future. It feels great to have finally taken the first step towards fulfilling a new dream. Obviously, our dream to live the rest of our lives in Israel did not work out--at least for now. But we have to carry on, and for me, I always do better when I am moving towards something, rather than sitting, crying, and staring at a closed door.

Shavua tov, chaverim!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Bluegrass Stained Glass Baby

Shalom, chaverim! How's it going, eh? Things here in placid Bellingham are rolling along nicely since I last wrote. We've been having fun exploring the area, including a couple of visits to a local casino up the road. They loaded us up with new member "comps" (complimentary gifts) like meals at the buffet--two were free because we were new members, and another two were free because it was going to be our birthdays at some date in the next year! Not to mention each of us receiving two (two!) plastic tape-measure keychains (do we look like people who need to measure twice and cut once? Probably.), lanyards on which to hang our players' club card, large buttons screaming "New Member!", and a pen that doubles as a cellphone text message stylus. That's a lot of swag.

Unfortunately, the friendliness of the staff and the generosity of the players' club benefits was not matched by the actual quality of the food. Nursing our bloated bellies and disappointed palates following our meals there, we found ourselves missing the splendor and debauched gluttony of a typical buffet at a Las Vegas Strip casino. Some things just taste better at home.

Never mind. Allegiant Airlines flies cheap and cheerful planes out of Bellingham on a daily basis, so we'll get around to visiting Vegas again when our wallet and calendars allow it. By the way, here's a little shout-out to our friends in Nevada...we miss you all! Remember you residents of the mesquite-fired state, Allegiant also flies from Vegas to Bellingham, too, so come visit us in the City of Subdued Excitement for a polar opposite urban experience and all the crunchy organic granola you can eat.

I've harnessed the power of the interwebs to build up our social life, and have joined a bunch of groups on that meet in Bellingham. is a really cheap (like $10 a year cheap) online service you can sign up with to connect with like-minded people who want to meet "IRL" (web-speak for "in real life"). I've joined "Women of Whatcom," for one, a photography group, one for independent filmmakers, one called "Northwest Entrepreneurs,"  and a couple of others. So far I've been to two meetups, and the people have been very, very nice. Since I've completed my Goodwill classes at the moment, I have some extra time and want to put it to good use.

I've also put out some feelers to see if I can form some kind of act with other musicians. So far I've gotten two responses to an ad I put out on Craigslist, so we'll see what happens with that one. I was looking, actually, for musicians with whom to form some kind of old-timey, folksy bluegrass group--my secret music love. Of course, with only a few YouTube clips to demonstrate my singing, which were of me doing Cantorial Soloist pieces in Hebrew, I'm not surprised I didn't have much street cred. Never mind. I just keep thinking of The Bangles and how they all had boring day jobs as secretaries and office workers. If they can do it, why can't I get together a little folk music ensemble?

Finally, I've started in earnest to learn how to do stained glass--something I decided I wanted to do before we made Aliyah, but could never get it together to learn when I was in Israel. Of course, the language barrier, my own shyness, and various other problems got in my way there. But now, it's time to act. I tracked down two different teachers who are offering introductory workshops in stained glass, and signed up with both of them.

The first teacher, whom I'll meet this weekend, lives in lovely Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. That's great, because it allows Elul to explore Vancouver while I toddle away with my new hobby. The next teacher is down in Auburn, Washington--south of Seattle and near Federal Way, if you know the area. I hope to study with him next month, for a two-day workshop. Strangely, the woman in Bellingham from whom I bought my tools last year seems to have disappeared from the local stained glass scene, so I have to hit the road to find my teachers.

One of the many dreams I have always had, but never did anything about, was to make art that I could actually sell. In the past, I've always sold services: English lessons, babysitting, lawn mowing, copy writing, pet sitting, showing up to a job, and so on. But I have a passion for stained glass that has haunted me for years now, and now I want to learn to make all these daydreams of beautiful work that have danced around in my head come alive--and into the homes of people who love stained glass like I do. That's it. We'll see where this new road takes me. Maybe it will be a road accompanied by the dulcet tones of my bluegrass duo. "Olah chadasha Turns Bluegrass Stained Glass Baby" there's a headline and a half.

Until then, l'hitra'ot ("see you later" in Hebrew), chaverim!