Every opportunity presents people with the chance to learn and to grow, and for the artists of Pocahontas County, there is always something to learn – be it a new technique, a new way of looking at art, or an entirely new medium. Retta Blankship, Kay Gillespie and their fellow artists were recently two different opportunities to discover and refine their stained glass techniques.
Back by popular demand, David Houser, of Preston County, spent two days in Green Bank teaching beginning and advanced level classes to interested parties.
Each class had roughly 10 students, and Houser used each class to teach his students a different technique. Friday’s class was created for those just getting their start in stained glass, while Saturday’s class geared toward a more advanced level.
However, all experience levels were welcomed in either class.
When creating the kaleidoscopes, Houser’s students were introduced to copper foiling – a technique where copper foil is wrapped around the edges of the glass and soldered together along the length of the seams.
It can be used as an alternative to lead and is much stronger than lead when soldered. Copper foil is waterproof and allows artists to do intricate designs within having to worry about the bulky appearance and weight of lead detracting from the piece. In the case of Houser’s class, the copper foiling was used to help adhere the solder to the glass.
When creating her kaleidoscope, Blankenship described holding the body of the kaleidoscope together in a perfect triangle with one hand while applying a bead of solder with the other was one of the more difficult aspects of the class.
“The kaleidoscope’s body has to be perfect,” she explained. “Once the solder has set, mirrors are inserted into the tube to transform the kaleidoscope into, well, the kaleidoscope. If the triangle is off, Houser won’t be able to fit the mirrors in.”
Lead came was the second technique used over the weekend. This kind of glasswork is the joining of cut pieces of glass, through the use of lead strips, into picturesque designs in a framework of soldered metal. The long strips of lead are cut and fit into grooves and then soldered into place.
This technique is most notably linked to stained glass windows one might see in a church, and Houser introduced his students to lead caming through the use of a Dresden plate design. With a laugh, both Blankenship and Gillespie agreed that the classes weren’t as easy as one might think.
“It can actually be very stressful,” Gillespie added. “The most difficult is picking your colors, and Houser gave us a table filled with color options. But that’s part of the learning, too. There are so many elements of art being learned – as well as hands-on skill – and one of them was color. Color might sound simple, but it’s actually not.”
Whether it be by coincidence or – as some might say – divine intervention, Blankenship left the workshop with a unique story to tell.
Leasha Fulten, of Monterey, Virginia, was one of the participants in attendance.
According to Blankenship, Fulten had finished soldering the body of her kaleidoscope and was watching as Houser inserted her mirrors when she mentioned her mother. Fulten explained that her mother is unable to walk and spends the majority of her time in bed or confined to her wheelchair.
A few weeks prior to taking Houser’s class, Fulten’s mother confided in her daughter that she wished she had a kaleidoscope to look out of her window through. Unaware that a class was being offered so soon, Fulten began browsing Amazon.com and other online shopping websites for a simple, little kaleidoscope.
It was around that same time that she heard about the stained glass classes being offered at the Green Bank Public Library and contacted Blankenship to sign up for the Dresden Plate class.
“What got me was that the flyers hadn’t even been posted yet,” Blankenship added. “I have no idea how she heard about the classes. By the time she called, the Dresden Plate class was full, so I put her in Friday’s class. She didn’t know we would be making kaleidoscopes until she arrived. It gives me goosebumps to think about it.”
Everyone left the class with a finished product, and for Fulten, she was able to bring her mother a kaleidoscope made with love.
Houser has been teaching stained glass classes for 32 years, and he has conducted his popular classes and workshops in a number of venues – including the Mountain State Art and Craft Fair at Cedar Lakes; the Ripley Crafts Center, located in Ripley; and the Augusta Heritage Center, located in Elkins.
According to the classes’ participants, Houser is incredibly organized and likes to set up individual stations for his students. Each station comes with its own tools and glass – everything a student might need to create their piece.
“Some might say that he goes above and beyond with what he provides in terms of instruction and material,” Blankenship added. “There are a lot of artists, but an artist who can teach is rare – and Houser is more than happy to.”
Blankenship and Gillespie both praised Houser’s teaching manners and described him as an adaptable, flexible and well-mannered instructor who tends to his students’ needs. One woman lost track of time and came into the class two hours late, but despite his initial surprise, Houser worked with her and was able to catch her up.
“She was able to leave the class with a finished product,” Gillespie said. “Everyone walked out of the class with something they were incredibly proud of. That’s another thing that made the class a success – they leave with a finished product that they are truly proud of and have bragging rights over. The products that came out of the class were just gorgeous.”
May’s class was sponsored by the Green Bank Arts Center, the Green Bank Gallery, the Green Bank Public Library and the Pocahontas County Arts Council.
In addition to its local sponsors, the program was presented with financial assistance from the West Virginia Division of Culture and History and the National Endowment for the Arts, with approval from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts.
“You don’t realize what small grant can give to a community,” Blankenship said.
Cailey Moore may be contacted at email@example.com