The exquisite beauty of stained glass, and seeing sunlight break into a room through those beautifully colored and specially shaped fragments, elicit feelings unlike any other. The look is certainly timeless, and in our midst lives a woman whose love of this particular art form has spanned decades, leaving in its wake countless masterpieces.
The year was 1978, and Peggy Waldon was in her high school art class when the teacher asked what the students wanted to learn about. When they realized that working with glass was on option, the students were all on board. “I liked it so much that, since then, I have probably done every hobby out there, but I always go back to working with glass,” Waldon expressed. “I love the colors of the glass, and how you can make almost anything with it. It can be used for dishes, to create a pretty window, for mosaic pieces, walls, and even Christmas ornaments.”
Throughout the decades since, she has seen glass and bead shops come and go, and Waldon was taking classes at each one whenever she could. She had sold her stained glass work out of her house to galleries in places like Cambria, but 11 years ago, she finally decided to open up her own glass shop, Gargoyle Stained Glass, here in Bakersfield. There, she shows excited patrons how you can make colored glass objects that are small, like a nightlight, or large, such as window transoms.
The one thing she doesn’t do, however, is “stain the glass.” She laughed, “The color of the glass depends on the chemical makeup used to create it. At least once a year, people ask me if I can stain their windows! I have to explain the process to them.” (Fortunately for them, the process with anything in stained glass is pretty fascinating.)
Case in point: when Waldon gets to creating with stained glass, she will start off with a pattern that she designs on paper, depending on what she is looking to make. After the pattern is chosen, she obtains glass that is the perfect color for the job from a stained glass dealer, and then gets to work in cutting the chosen glass into the exact shapes she outlined in her pattern. “I use a glass cutter with a carbide tip to cut the shapes,” she said. “For the longer cuts, I will use running pliers.” She then grinds the shapes, and while she says it is near impossible to hurt yourself, Waldon recommends not enjoying any snacks in the process. “The only way you can get hurt is if you eat [the substances being used], so no potato chips or M&Ms around while you work, because you can transfer the chemicals used through your hands.” So, naturally, she wears a protective mask.
There are choices when fusing the pieces together, as well: copper foil (which is popular in Tiffany lamps) and lead came (for leaded windows). These are the materials that run in between the colored glass, and what helps to bring the full vision into reality. The pieces of glass are placed on plywood and held into place with horseshoe nails. The appropriate strips of either the copper foil or lead came are cut and put into place before Weldon solders the bits into their permanent places. (Her soldering iron reaches a scorching 600 degrees!) Also, both sides must be soldered.
For smaller pieces, this could very well be the end of the line, but for larger ones—especially windows—you want to give it a good shake. “If it rattles, you pack it. If it doesn’t, you don’t.” What she means by packing is putting in some Miracle Mudd with the lead. Typically, she does this with any large project, because “Vibrations break glass more than anything else,” and if you are dealing with a window, chances are it will be subject to some sort of vibration in time. (It should also be noted that all of the tools she uses are specifically used in working with stained glass, most of which you have to get through actual stained glass shops.)
Not all projects are smooth sailing—Weldon admits that it can be like a huge jigsaw puzzle, and sometimes she gets a color that she just doesn’t like, so she has to go about changing things around and revising her initial vision. Regardless of the challenges, she is content with her role as the local stained glass guru, and so much so that she hosts classes and helps countless people with their projects at Gargoyle Stained Glass. If you would like to see some of her beautiful work and get updates on classes and times, you can find her on Facebook at http://facebook.com and search for Gargoyle Stained Glass.