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The art of stained glass has a historical and magical quality that makes it nerve-wracking when considering taking it up as a hobby. But a new glass studio in Boulder seeks to simplify the process and teach enthusiasts the intricacies of the ancient art form. Colorado Glassware offers with its courses the possibility of creating something, a work of art that comes to life with a trickle of light. We decided to try one of the courses for ourselves.
Colorado Glassware officially opened the doors to its glass studio on Pearl Street just two months ago – but its owner, Meggy Wilm, began his art of stained glass several years ago. In the fall of 2017, Wilm was at a turning point in her life. She found herself living in Denver after graduating from college and she wasn’t sure what her next step would be, but she knew she had an interest in stained glass art.
“I always loved stained glass when I was a kid,” Wilm said. “I remember walking past buildings and houses and admiring glass. So I thought ‘I’m done with school, I’m going to take a stained glass class and invest in myself.”
And over the past five years, Wilm has created and sold bold artwork on the themes of wilderness, animals and plants. The next step was to share his passion by teaching others to create their own pieces.
Colorado Glassworks currently offers four different classes for all experience levels. The most popular option is the Beginner stained glass class where students learn the basics of making stained glass art with the copper foil method. In just four two-hour sessions, students can learn everything they need to make a medium-sized piece of art they can take home. All materials and tools are included with the $360 it costs to take the course.
The studio also offers other courses, including a One day initiation course for those looking for an intensive course, a Holiday session class and Open studio sessions for anyone looking for help with their project or a fun space to create.
For all those who prefer to indulge their hobbies at home, there is the Online courses for beginners option. Wilm offers a pre-recorded class for $100 that teaches the same techniques one will learn in the in-person class, but materials and tools are not included.
Colorado Glassworks invites you to browse – the invitation is almost impossible to resist. Various stained glass windows hang from the windows, the colors come alive with the light. Classes take place on the right where two large workshop tables bear the scratches, burns and glittering shards of glass cut by artists and students.
The first step, Wilm explained, is choosing the sheet of glass you want to work on. It can be whatever texture or color you prefer. Anything that calls you. “It may take a while,” Wilm said, “but take your time.” It turns out that I didn’t need a lot of time. I instantly found a blue-green leaf with a wavy texture. It reminded me of the sea. I confidently grabbed it, completely unaware of the problems this texture would later create for me.
Wilm then explained the basics of glass cutting, a prospect that intimidated me. She easily showed me the three basic shapes you have 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 looked like it would break if I applied too much force, but Wilm assured me he could handle it. The trick was to listen for a continuous scraping sound the blade made against the glass, which meant the glass broke easily when I applied pressure with the pliers.
On a smooth piece of glass, this task seemed simple. But now I have to cut out the shape on my corrugated sheet of glass. The choice was already made. There was no turning back. Lots of mistakes were made but Wilm was reassuring throughout each one..
After cutting a few geometrically imperfect shapes and a few nicks on my fingers—a professional 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 started to look like the shape it was supposed to have. Suddenly, my mistakes didn’t seem so important anymore.
The last and most exciting part was the foil and solder method. Because lead doesn’t stick to glass, we first glued copper foil all the way around the edge 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 encapsulating the edges of the glass. It was frightening to work with an extremely hot tool and liquid lead that sometimes dripped onto the wooden surface. But once I successfully completed a line, it became relaxing. This last step is what gives stability to the glass, Wilm explained. Plus, it complements that lead lining aesthetic that is the epitome of stained glass.
As I watched Wilm demonstrate how to work with this unpredictable liquid mine, I realize that she is not only teach me to work with stained glass but to accept the imperfections that go with it. Every time I thought I had 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 for that. You can create gaps with additional solder. I like that there’s a bit of forgiveness in it. It’s perfectly imperfect.
Once I figured it out, I wanted to solder any piece of glass I could find. This is a side effect that I did not expect. I thought of all the other parts I could cut and weld together. Maybe I could make a flower or a sky full of stars. How do mosaics work? However, the two hour class was over and at the end I had a perfectly imperfect piece of honeycomb shaped glass, with the color and feel of the ocean.
Although daunting at first, stained glass is a very indulgent and meditative art form. Once you master the basic techniques, you can create more complex pieces. The glass cracked? Try a new one. The line you cut is not straight? Grind it into shape. Too much solder on your part? Impossible. Mistakes are encouraged and mistakes will be beautiful no matter what. With Wilm’s encouraging teaching method, you will soon discover inner creativity you may not have suspected. If you’re looking for a relaxing yet invigorating way to spend your Saturdays, Colorado Glassworks will definitely have it for you.
Colorado Glassworks is open Tuesday through Friday from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information on courses and prices, visit the official website or Instagram.