A Glass Act

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Oct 08, 2013 5:47 PM
Robert Carter photo

Shortly before he retired a decade ago, Wayne Wells received a rather unique gift from his wife: stained-glass lessons.

"She said, 'You're going to need something to do when you retire!'" chuckles Wayne, surrounded by intricately designed pieces of stained glass in the basement of his St. John's home, which is also the setting for his business, Stained Glass de-Lights.

Not having any experience with stained glass - and unsure whether he'd even enjoy the process of making it - Wayne decided to give it a shot and attended the series of three classes then offered at a studio in downtown St. John's. Now 10 years later, what started out as a retirement hobby has practically put Wayne back to work.

"I was immediately hooked," says Wayne. "I just started ordering glass and equipment and supplies because I knew it was something I was going to want to do."

Wayne says his favourite subjects to depict in glass are flowers, landscapes and animals.

"You can draw inspiration from anything - books or nature, the sea," he says. "I see something I like and I take a picture of it and do it," he says.

A stunning example of Wayne's work. Robert Carter photo

In the beginning, Wayne gifted or donated the pieces he created in his basement-turned art studio. But in recent years, with more experience under his belt, he's also been doing commissioned pieces for pay. And most recently, he's begun sharing his talent, knowledge and passion with others.

This past winter, Wayne began teaching the art of creating stained glass from his home studio and his first 20 students enrolled. For $200, each student receives instruction and one-on-one guidance from Wayne during four three-hour sessions, plus free access to his large glass inventory and all the equipment and tools of the trade. By the end of the second class, students have learned enough to complete their first project: a sun catcher, which is theirs to keep.

During the sessions, Wayne covers all the basic steps, from creating a pattern and cutting the glass to the final shining and waxing - and all the steps in between. It's a process that can take anywhere from an hour and a half for smaller pieces to more than 20 hours on larger ones.

WayneImage, pictured left, practises and teaches the Tiffany method, a stained-glass technique that dates back to the 19th century (the same method used to create the popular Tiffany lamp). According to Wayne, this method allows stained-glass artists to create more intricate designs. It involves wrapping the outer edges of each piece of glass in copper foil (instead of lead came, a method that dates back to the 11th century), then fitting together all the colourful shards like a puzzle and soldering them in place. (The stained-glass windows in the Anglican Cathedral in downtown St. John's, on the other hand, were made using the lead came technique.)

Wayne says women and men of all ages - from teens to retired folks - have taken his course so far.

OneImage of his students, Robert Carter (pictured with Wayne, left) has long dabbled in photography and says he now enjoys using his own photographs as inspiration for stained glass - including one of his first pieces, patterned after a photo he took of a puffin in Elliston.

"You look forward to the classes," says Robert, also retired. Like Wayne, he quickly became hooked on the craft and says he enjoyed the class so much he's planning to take it again this fall.

Wayne says a few of his students have gone on to purchase their own equipment, to continue honing the craft in their own homes. But for folks not up for that kind of investment, Wayne rents his basement studio for a nominal fee.

As his business grows and evolves, it requires more and more of Wayne's time - but it hardly feels like work.

"It's very therapeutic. I get lost down there for hours. (My wife) Doreen has to come down sometimes and drag me up still, after 10 years," says Wayne. "You're so concentrated and you just get in a Zen zone, and you're just working on your piece and nothing else in the world exists."

Wayne created these stained glass irises - one of his favourite pieces. Robert Carter photo

A major highlight for Wayne came in the spring, when the provincial department of innovation, business and rural development reviewed his stained glass and gave it the Crafts of Character designation, a brand applied to quality Newfoundland and Labrador products that demonstrate excellence in creativity and craftsmanship.

But for Wayne, the true reward is still found in his own seal of approval, "when you do the piece and you put it up to the window for the first time and look through it and say, 'oh my God, did I create that?'" - Story by Ashley Colombe

To view more of Wayne's work, or to find out about upcoming classes, visit him on Facebook.