Tonawanda News

June 2, 2014

NEVER STOP LEARNING: Lessons in glass at Gleam & Glimmer

By Mia Summerson
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Editor’s note: This is the first in an ongoing series of columns by Mia Summerson about creative classes — on subjects from art to cooking to do-it-yourself projects — available to the public in the Niagara Region

When I was a kid, writing was generally the extent of my creative talent, though I had always wished it wasn’t. And I’d be rich if I had a quarter for every time someone told me they wished they were more artistic. So it appears I’m not alone.

When I got the go-ahead to start on this column, I was excited because, in my years working as a reporter, I have encountered a lot of local artists and wished I could do what they do. Given the gigantic variety to be found within the art world, as well as the abundance of local talent, I’ve decided local art workshops would be a great place to start.

My first stop was Gleam and Glimmer Glass Studio in North Tonawanda. The Webster Street shop specializes in handmade stained-glass products. The expensive process of staining glass doesn’t happen at the shop, but everything else does. Every work is arranged and attached piece-by-piece in-house.

The front of the shop functions as a retail floor, with displays of garden and home decor, jewelry and other keepsakes. In the back, work benches are set up with all the equipment needed for whatever project the class happens to be doing that day. I went on a Wednesday evening for “dragonfly ground stake” day. (Note: Participants should enroll in classes in advance.)

The class was small, about 10 people, which allowed owner and instructor Suzanne Todaro and her assistants plenty of opportunities to work with each person one-on-one and help out anyone who was struggling. Had that not been the case, many of our dragonflies wouldn’t have come out so well, mine included.

When we all sat down to get started, Todaro introduced herself and explained the supplies in front of us: A few pieces of glass, lead caming, pliers, wire cutters and a soldering iron. The first step was to take the caming (the malleable metal used to online glass pieces) and wrap it securely around the edge of the glass pieces that would become the wings, eyes, tail and body of the dragonfly.

This process was the lengthiest part of the class, which was nice because it not only gave the instructors a chance to walk around and speak with us, but it also gave the students a chance to connect with one another. While I can only speak for those in the class I attended, my fellow students were extremely friendly and very willing to share extra materials or help out anyone who was having a hard time.

The next step was to solder the eyes and sets of wings together. I’d never soldered before, but I was pleasantly surprised with the progress I had made by the end. The greatest thing about soldering is that errors are incredibly easy to correct. Solder that drips on the glass chips right off and bubbles or uneven solder can be smoothed out just by reheating it.

After that, we connected the tail, wings and eyes to the body and soldered on curled wires to make the antenna. Then we cleaned off the residue from the flux, a liquid applied to the caming to make the solder stick, and then Todaro attached it to the piece that connects the dragonfly to the lawn stake and we were all set.

It was a pretty simple process. Not that it didn’t take time and care, but it was definitely something that allows you to get creative without being an artistic genius.

I think it’s also nice that it’s relaxed enough that kids can do it. Maybe not younger kids, but the ones that are old enough to take shop class and handle a soldering iron.

One young couple had the brilliant idea of making a Mother’s Day gift out of the class, taking their moms to make dragonflies. Both women said they loved it and they seemed to have just as much fun as I did. Maybe we should take a hint from them for next year.

Gleam and Glimmer offers classes from Tuesdays to Saturdays and sometimes Mondays.

Students can make all different types of ground stakes and glass creations, as well as learn other skills like copper enameling. Prices for these classes differ depending on the project.

The studio also offers an ongoing workshop where students can make a small stained glass window or lamp shade. The cost for this is $20 per session and students would also be responsible for their own supplies.

I loved the dragonfly project. It was fun, didn’t take too long or get you too dirty. Best of all, it didn’t require skills the average person (me) doesn’t possess.