As The Spirit Moves Me

Those in the know tell me that technically, the Autumn equinox happened on Monday, September 22 at 10:29 p.m. In our part of the world, where “technically” often plays second fiddle to “in reality”, Fall made its presence known to me several days earlier in this way:

I awoke to a chilly time-to-put-the-woodstove-on morning, with frost icing the garden and telling me there were already enough beans in the freezer, with the butter left overnight on the kitchen counter too hard to spread, with the new rosy colour of sumac leaves popping through the drying grasses in the field, and later that morning in our mailbox, with the delivery of the Fall catalogue from a stained glass supply house – my own personal indicator of changing seasons. The timing of the catalogue’s arrival always coincides with these things:  Outdoor art shows are done for the year. Indoor shows are looming on the horizon. Orders for custom glass Christmas gifts are now arriving. Yup. Fall is already here.

So, I gave the studio its end of summer cleaning that beginning of Fall day. Besides cleaning all the big stuff, the space still needed to be purged of the detritus of the last project of the summer – a lavender hanger – and returned to order ready for the next challenge. Putting the studio to rights is a kind of closure for me, a ritual in which I reverently partake. It clears my mind of the piece that has just left the studio and turns fresh thoughts to the next piece of work on the board.

There was basic tidying stuff to do: redirecting torn pattern papers and bits of copper tape backing directly into the garbage can instead of wherever they happened to land while I was working; vacuuming the cutting board to rid it of the minute splinters of glass that would otherwise demand attention by jabbbing their way into my knuckles; picking hardened splashes of errant solder from my apron before the apron and the three million rags used during the construction of the lavender hanger visit the laundry room; putting the remnants of the glass sheets I used away in their racks.

stained glass making tools

All this is routine grunt work and I do it myself, however, I have support staff that gathers to help clean and put the tools away. I never see them, but I know they are there.

A gentle man named John moseys in as I wipe clean my old wooden lathkin – a small fundamental tool for glass artists – and place it in its handy spot on the workbench. John is the gentle man who taught me the basics of glass art. He made a wooden lathkin for every student in his class that year, “because the boughten ones just don’t do the job”.  This tool shows every day of its 34 years of prying open lead channels and pushing foil tape onto glass and having hot solder and caustic flux spilled on it, but even with its scars, it puts to shame other lathkins I’ve since acquired and I use that old wooden one still. My hope is that the lathkin will stay in one piece long enough to be used in every project that leaves the studio till the very last one. John would have approved of the just-finished lavender hanger. It was a piece with an outside-the-box design – outside-the-box being a country in which John firmly resided. Holding that old lathkin, I am grateful that he started me on the path to outside-the-box design where I am so happy to walk.

Sweeping the cutting table and brushing clean the pliers that help break the glass conjures Lew – a family friend whose glass tools I inherited after his passing more than 3 decades ago. Lew loved glass art but I believe there was more joy for him in acquiring the tools of the trade than in breaking glass, and opening his tool box when it became mine felt like Christmas morning. Whenever I hold Lew’s running pliers to a piece of scored glass and hear that brisk, light “tch” sound – the signal that the break is just starting – it brings to mind Lew’s raspy, earthy voice saying, “That’s the way it’s done”.

My father hovers as my favourite glass cutter is cleaned and its empty reservoir filled with cutting oil. I bought this glass cutter for my dad in his retirement years when he expressed an interest in discovering the art of working with glass. The plan was that I would teach him how to use the cutter, but his time here was too short and his hands never pulled the cutter over a pattern line drawn on the glass. My hands do so in their place.

So many helpers in my little studio as we welcome autumn. So much of their spirit in my artwork.