Glass Room Studio forges community of artists

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Featured photo: Glass Room Studio owner Janet Smith (right) teaches DGI Director Kay Moore (left) and Karen Owen (center) to solder the edges of their stained-glass pieces during a class in the Glass Room Studio on August 12. (Emma Kirkemier/Messenger)

08-18-2022

By Emma Kirkemier, News Editor

Stained-glass artist Janet Smith invites community members and aspiring artists to come try their hand at stained glass in her downtown Gadsden studio.

Smith owns the Glass Room Studio on Duncan Street, sharing a building with Escape Day Spa.

“I enjoy working with students because I love to see the look on their face and the surprise [when they realize], ‘I can do this,’” Smith said.

A retired Glencoe Elementary School teacher and a stained-glass art teacher for the past two years, Smith takes her classroom with her wherever she goes.

“When I retired from teaching, I couldn’t stay home,” she said. “I wanted to do something that I loved and I enjoyed. Stained glass was always an area that I wanted to pursue more, and by taking classes and just by learning, I (was able to pursue the art). Every time I work with a group of students, I learn too, and it’s always a lot of fun.”

Smith accepts anyone into her workshops and classes, from stained-glass hobbyists and crafters like herself to complete beginners.

“It’s because she’s a fabulous elementary school teacher,” said Karen Owen, Gadsden native and Smith’s sister-in-law. “She has the patience of Job.”

Smith taught Owen and Downtown Gadsden Inc. Director Kay Moore to make stained glass ornaments in the classic shape of colored bulbs.

She showed the ladies how to wrap copper wire around the bases of their “bulbs,” creating an old-timey, screw-in lightbulb effect, and preparing the pieces to be soldered.

Smith applied flux to her piece, explaining that the substance would initiate a chemical reaction that would bond the solder to the copper foil and wire.

“This is just like what plumbers use when they work with copper,” she explained. “Flux sets up the copper and causes a chemical reaction so that the solder will stick.”

The solder Smith used was a 60 to 40 percent compound of tin and lead, respectively. Although both metals have comparatively low melting points, the necessary reaction requires intense heat.

Smith said that her soldering irons were set to 700 degrees, prompting Moore to remark that she “[doesn’t] even like to use a curling iron.”

According to Smith, applying solder is a process called “tinning” the edges. In spite of their fears, Moore and Owen were able to tin their pieces successfully.

Smith said that even though she teaches students to hold the irons carefully, she usually only accepts students older than 16 years for safety reasons.

“I figure if they can drive a car, they can work a 700-degree iron,” she quipped.

However, the teacher herself had to become a student before she could get her dream studio off the ground.

Smith said she started working with stained glass when she was in high school and had “dabbled in it through the years” until, upon her retirement, she was able to pursue the hobby full-time.

She found a mentor in David Schlueter, artist and owner of Buck Creek Stained Glass in Helena, with whom she first took classes and then served as a kind of apprentice. Smith said she gleaned “about 80 percent” of her knowledge of the craft from restoring stained-glass pieces with Schlueter.

“We worked on pieces as large as these tables,” she said, gesturing to her large, raised work table. “He received pieces from all over the United States, and door panels and things. A lot of church glass would come in, and we would have to replace pieces in the church glass, just small, individual pieces of glass. There’s a lot to that process.”

Smith began working independently as an artist for Lookout Mountain Goat Ranch Originals in Attalla. She sold stained-glass art there from early 2020 until the ranch was closed due to COVID-19 concerns. Despite being devastated for the loss of her friends’ business and her own artistic outlet, Smith said the ranch’s closing ultimately set her on a path to starting her own studio.

“It was a blessing to move over here and to this little room, and I’ve met so many wonderful people,” she said. “I still have students coming from Tuscaloosa, Atlanta, Birmingham. It’s been amazing.”

Smith’s husband Bill is a carpenter, a trade that she said has proved invaluable for her artistic interests.

“I share this beautiful little house with Mary Benn, Escape Day Spa,” Smith said. “This was a beauty shop. Bill and I came in, and he renovated it for me for my stained glass.”

While her studio at 401 Duncan Street in Gadsden only comfortably holds four students at a time, Smith said she runs a flexible-hours, “open working studio,” meaning that she schedules classes by appointment instead of holding set weekly hours.

Smith encourages friends — like Owen and Moore — to come to workshops or classes together. It allows students to create memories with loved ones as well as stained-glass art pieces.

Smith is preparing to hold a series of three workshops in September at Barefoot Mercantile & Co. in Oxford, leading into the holiday season.

For more information or to book a session, visit The Glass Room Studio on Facebook or call 256-390-4008.

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