Four years ago, Pocahontas County native Judy Gum retired from a long and successful career as a Nurse Case Manager for Augusta Health in Fisherville, Virginia. In the months leading up to her retirement, Gum put together a bucket list – a list of achievements and experiences she hopes to accomplish in the years to come.
“Once you’ve decluttered your house and have traveled a little bit, you have the next thirty years,” Gum added. “I’m one of those people who has to have a project, and stained glass has always been an interest of mine.”
To make each of her panels, ornaments and sun catchers, Gum begins by selecting her pattern and making two copies. One copy is saved for later on in the project, while the second is cut according to the pattern’s pieces and glued onto sheets of stained glass.
A glass cutter is then used to trace the pattern onto one side of the glass. The cutter – also known as a scorer – creates a shallow split that encourages the glass to break along the score and features three key elements: a hardened steel cutting wheel that scores the glass; two to three notches used for snapping the glass; and a ball – located on the end of the handle – for tapping along the scored line.
Once the glass has been broken, Gum grinds the edges until smooth and pieces them together according to her pattern. Then comes the task of soldering the individual pieces to one another to create the final product.
Solder does not adhere to glass well, so Gum wraps the edges of her glass in copper foil and applies a flux – or weak acid – to assist the solder in adhering to the copper foil.
“Soldering is usually the skill that takes the longest to learn,” Gum explained. “It’s very labor-intensive, and it takes a lot of practice to achieve the look you want. In a way, it’s kind of like icing a cake. Some days, it looks great – but there will be days when your soldering will look like it’s your first week doing it. You get better as you go along.”
After the pieces have been joined together, Gum washes the flux off and polishes her ornaments, panels and sun catchers with car wax. According to Gum, the car wax helps to keep the soldering – especially the copper foil – from oxidizing.
The final products are beautiful, but they are not achieved without a fair share of minor misfortunes on Gum’s part. There’s hardly a day that goes by that Gum doesn’t cut herself, and she’s burned herself on her soldering iron more than once.
“It’s not a hobby for those who are squeamish,” Gum added. “It’s a hobby that requires a lot of band-aids.”
When Gum first began working with stained glass, it was in pursuit of an artistic experience written on her list of things to do post-retirement. Stained glass art had always intrigued her, and being a project-oriented person, Gum thought that it would be an interesting hobby to explore.
Having worked in the medical field, Gum considered herself to be more scientifically inclined and didn’t expect her hobby to develop into anything greater.
However, what was meant to be a hobby has turned into an addiction.
“You can never have enough glass,” Gum said with a laugh. “The glass that you have – that’s your palette. If you don’t have a variety to choose from, then you’re limited in what you can do.”
The majority of Gum’s glass comes from Paden City, West Virginia – a small town at the base of the northern panhandle where the Paul Wissmach Glass Company is located. The Paul Wissmach Glass Company has been in business for more than 100 years, and in the past four years, Gum has brought home sheet upon sheet of their glass to work with.
Working with stained glass has become a form of therapy for Gum, and it allows her to lose herself in her work. While Gum may not be a master in the art of stained glass, it is something that allows her to enjoy the learning opportunities each piece presents.
“I’m an example of determination,” Gum said. “If you want to do something, you can.”
The Pocahontas County Artisan Co-op operates out of the 4th Avenue Gallery – located at 721 Fourth Avenue in Marlinton. During the summer, the gallery is open Wednesday through Monday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and can be reached at 304-799-2550.
Artist Spotlight is a series highlighting artists in the county.