Authority of the Piece

It’s March when everything seems to be on the cusp of beginning.    It’s slow in the shop today.  A repair job beckons from the work bench;  I’m still in the think-it-over and develop a strategy stage – this motion I don’t get paid for, but crucial for me to go through  even though I know there will be many detours.  

I’ve labeled some pieces that I think must be removed for re-foiling. I’m waiting for that moment when it all gels – when I can say with conviction that the piece was a throw-away when it came in the door, so I can’t hurt it further; the bravery I need to start tearing the piece apart with the confidence that I will get it back together good as (better than?) new, and the right mood.  Yup, it sounds silly, but I need to be in the mood to do a repair. 

The mood can only be described as a devil-may-care sense of adventure with my mind wide open mostly because I know that whatever I have  planned  at the onset, the authority of the piece will dictate each move from beginning to end and I need to let go. 

Sometimes it is frustrating and I’ll get so wound up in the frustration that I need to put it aside for a day or a week just to back up and get a fresh look.  Then, when I’ve nearly forgotten the presence of the abandoned repair project,  I’ll look up at the work bench and see a small thing I can do, some ah-ha moment when what had been fuzzy becomes crystal clear . . . I’m hooked again.  

Building the piece back together is hardly ever the problem.  Most problems and the biggest time factors are with dismantling, getting the broken piece of glass away from the others without breaking more pieces, pulling off came soldered in many places on both sides – heating both sides of a joint with a soldering iron and pulling the came away with only two hands.  I always feel sure that some master craftsman solved all my puzzles long before I have put my unworthy head to them and would be laughing . . .but, I get it loose, figure it out, feel relieved and able to move on to the next dictation from the piece.

I repair a lot of pieces made in China and Mexico, I’ve learned to tell which country.  I used to rattle on about the levels of craftsmanship evidenced in the piece, why it broke, on and on.  Now, the only mention I make is when I give my estimate.  Sometimes I will have to say, “This will cost more to repair than what it cost to purchase it in the first place.”  My way of commenting on the source.  I’ve almost come to be able to say this without much innuendo.  Just business; customer needs to know the options.  I quit  snarking the home shopping networks and department stores who buy stained glass novelties wholesale.  If someone loves a piece of art, the only thing they want to know about it is can I fix it.

And my answer is yes.   Yes, even if I’m not absolutely sure.  Now, you know my secret.  Not such a secret, really.  Just that I’m willing to risk a bit of my reputation (as I see it) as a business person.  And that risk buys me an opportunity to indulge in this passion that has grown through me.  I really, truly like doing repairs of stained glass.  I like them because  just when I feel like I may have bitten off more than I can chew (my lifelong strategy for learning anything), something in the art will let me know which way to proceed, you could say the authority of the piece guides its repair and I am just along for the ride.


Dalle De Verre Church Window Completed

The Dalle deVerre church window restoration is finally finished and re-installed.  The color of the matrix is somewhat different, but still in the background and not even noticeable in the sanctuary lighting.


I mixed 4 epoxy resin pour sections in the whole window; the first pour section was light on hardener, so needed to be removed and re-poured.  There is not the “cold joint” problem one might encounter with concrete, thank goodness, so, everything stuck where it was supposed to stick for the “replacement” pour – just a slight ridge in the surface of the matrix at the interface of pour sections.


I got a lot of great advice and encouragement from friends who had used epoxy resin in some form which I remembered when things went a little different than I expected.  Thanks to Dave and Karl, I was prepared for whatever might happen during the pour.  What I wasn’t prepared for was the lack of functionality of my scale. 


I planned to tare the milk carton and pour in the epoxy resin, take the weight of the epoxy and calculate how much hardener was needed exactly.  I had a 100:1 ratio, simple math.  The plan was to tare the carton with the epoxy and take the scale up to the exact weight of the hardener only.  Well, the scale would not tare so much weight and it flustered me at first.  The first pour eventually needed to be replaced (as mentioned) because I “guesstimated” wrong on the hardener needed.  After that, everything went fine.  I just got a tare on the carton, added epoxy, and wrote down the weight of the total epoxy for my calculation of the hardener required.   Put the carton back on the scale with epoxy inside, wrote down the total weight, added the weight of the hardener to that total and then poured in the hardener until the scale read the sum.  No problems after that on calculating the mix.


I first tried pouring from the corner of the milk carton.  The texture of the epoxy resin with hardener is a little like peanut butter thinned with really sticky honey, but the way it “moves” is something I had not encountered, sort of reminded me of liquid-y silly putty.  The stuff got all over the dalles, so I moved into the more open sections of the panel since I thought the pour would be going off in about 20 minutes which would leave me little time to clean the epoxy off the dalles before it hardened.  A little nerve wracking, but it was not a good time for freaking out.  I got as much as possible poured from the carton and did a little mental reassessment of the plan.


What I ended up using for the actual “spreading” of the epoxy resin for the balance of three pours was gallon size plastic storage bags which I filled from the milk carton I used to mix.  Just cut a small hole in the corner of the bag to accommodate the narrow “channels” between the dalles and instead of squeezing (like you might do while decorating a cake), I just let the epoxy resin “fall” out of the hole as I moved it around the glass.  Piece of cake . . .


I waited 15 minutes after each pour and sprinkled clean sand over the surface.  There was one place where I didn’t wait long enough before sprinkling the sand and it sunk into the epoxy resin a bit; doesn’t look perfect, but not too bad.


The matrix began to harden very quickly (except for the bad first pour), and I left it on the work bench until the following Monday (2 days).  The following Friday, I removed the matrix that didn’t harden and poured it again.  The following Monday, February 1, I called the church to make arrangements for the time to reinstall the panel.  Saturday, February 6, Kirby and I prepared the panel for transport to the church and he installed the panel.


The only really nervous moment for me was when he had to adjust the panel during the dry fit with a skill saw using a masonry blade.  I had to go inside the sanctuary and calm my mind with meditation while he was taking a power saw to my work.  But, it all went pretty well.  See photos.


I learned a lot doing this project and plan to do more Dalle de Verre.  I need to acquire more skill in shaping and faceting the glass.  I have no fear of mixing epoxy resin now.  I need to find a more effective way to smooth the aggregate around the dalles to get a nice flat matrix surface on the bottom as well as the top.  I’m sure that will all come with practice like with any skill set. 


Learning anything requires the willingness to say yes when an opportunity arises.  So, my dear reader, go forward without fear and learn.  If you are interested in learning Dalle de Verre, there is a valuable booklet from The Stained Glass Association of America which is Chapter 10 of the Reference and Technical Manual, Second Edition.  It is available from SGAA, Raytown, MO, 1-800-438-9581.  

Inside the sanctuary, the panel on the left is the restoration.

Inside the sanctuary, the panel on the left is the restoration.

Kirby, my husband, is adjusting the panel for the dry fit.

Kirby, my husband, is adjusting the panel for the dry fit.

Waiting for the masonry blade . . .yikes!

Waiting for the masonry blade . . .yikes!

Dalle De Verre Church Window

Pieces stuck down to pattern with glue dots, clean sand (aggregate layer) between dalles, needs fine tuning before epoxy resin pour.

Pieces stuck down to pattern with glue dots, clean sand (aggregate layer) between dalles, needs fine tuning before epoxy resin pour.

It’s the big day.  I’m going in this morning to finish up prep and do the epoxy resin pour.  I know I’ve been over-thinking this (thus creating a huge nervous knot in my stomach over it) so, I’m switching gears.  The process is down cold in my head, all my reference materials are close by.  The only prep I have left is to dam up the deep facets with clay so they won’t flood during the pour and to make sure the sand base is as close to even throughout at 1/4 inch.  The actual pour should take less than 20 minutes to 1/2 hour, then the final sanding (top layer of aggregate).  Wish me luck.

Update on Paper Mache Aided Lamp Repair

Just word on paper mache mold – while it could be useful in some cases, I ended up abandoning the idea in favor of simply cutting, adjusting the shape (with grinder), foiling, and tack soldering the replacement pieces in place.  Seventeen of the upper grid of the lamp were broken.  Now, I am searching for a good replacement for the mangled vase cap, one that will do justice to the gorgeous patina of the original (still intact) finial.  I don’t want to use one of those flimsy lace-cut brass caps on this lamp.

Lamp Repair with Paper Mache

Prep for Paper Mache ApplicationWaiting to Dry 
With something resembling a dough crust speckling my hands, I’m reporting on an experiment.  I am commissioned to repair a very pretty and large-ish lamp shade. 

Most of the lamps that I have repaired ( in my short career of repairing anything) have been panel lamps or some variation of a panel lamp.  So, to make things easier for the process, I thought it would be nice to have a form in the size and shape of this lamp to work with.  Then, like a flash, the idea of trying paper mache popped into my head.

I’ve done paper mache before, in the 4th grade, and, since my mother has no award ribbons or trophys to remind us all of my paper mache success, I have to assume that I was pretty mediocre at best in the medium.  So, I went online and found a little help from a grown-up who still does paper mache.  Turns out it’s pretty simple: water, flour (in a wide range of ratios), and torn newspapers.

So, now I’m waiting for it to dry.  Thank goodness I have other projects in the shop to amuse me.  Check back later for progress reports.

PS – I’m still waiting for the dalles to arrive from Blenko so I can continue on the church window repair.

Keeping the Shop Open in This Economy

Life has changed significantly for many people in small businesses on the Central Oregon Coast. In the last several months we in Newport have watched 2 car lots evaporate, one fine arts/office supply shop let go, a rather large and popular craft supply/home decor business sell out and close its doors, the only true sporting goods store in town black out its windows, and the list does go on. I’m talking about businesses that have been around awhile, businesses that have survived the coming of a Walmart and other calamities over a long span of years. 

The Oregon coast has been, for many years, a retirement “community” which translates (economically) to low wage service oriented jobs and marginal to failing industries like fishing and forest related work.  Some striving folks seem to feel that true engagement (social, political) requires a constant questioning (perhaps in defense of their time-honored jobs and very way of life) the ideas and efforts of many well-meaning people who are engaged in the serious and crucial work of saving the ecosystems of the pacific shore, forests, and near ocean which includes the fisheries on which we all depend, but seem, however, not to be so engaged in the culture of their adopted surroundings.  All are caught between the proverbial “rock and a hard place.”

It is in this financial and cultural environment (aka “perfect storm” or catastrophe) that I find myself looking out the windows of my dear little stained glass shop. I look across the street and wonder if (hoping for the best) those guys are doing okay. My business neighbors, on this side of the Hwy 101, all share similar concerns for each other.

I opened Jones Creek Glassworks in May of 2007, before the rest of us knew what the financial experts had been warning.   I have a very small overhead to keep the doors open; even so, I have given thought to closing.  Ironically, it is the very economy that terrorizes us now that keeps me in business.  What would I do if I closed my doors?  Can’t collect unemployment, can’t find a job.  So, I count myself lucky and grateful for all the wonderful customers and friends that support my little shop.  I’m grateful to have work to do every day.  I’m grateful that my work is to repair and make things that are beautiful. 

While it is impossible for me, a native born Oregonian, to have the clear perspective of a person who has emigrated from a country where hope, luck and gratitude are luxuries for only a few, I do have a glimmer of an idea of what they must see so clearly.  The bitter cup that we all drink from today, taking our share of the hardships of this world recession, is not the communion of a new existence.  Our existence, the solid stuff we build our lives on in America, on the central Oregon Coast, is that good things will happen, anyone can be lucky, hope is as natural as breathing, and being grateful is how we know when to share what we have with the less fortunate.  This is the existence that endures.

So, my holiday wish for you is that you be hope, expect good luck, and count your blessings!  And I’ll be here in my shop doing the same.