The art of stained glass

Paul Herridge
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Marystown resident shares her passion with others

Sarah Gouzvaris can easily recollect the day she saw "the most beautiful store she had ever seen in her life."

The native of Rushoon, who was then living in Brampton, Ont., was on vacation in nearby Belleville and walking down the street with her sister - six-month-old baby son along in a stroller - when she spotted it.

Sarah Gouzvaris can easily recollect the day she saw "the most beautiful store she had ever seen in her life."

The native of Rushoon, who was then living in Brampton, Ont., was on vacation in nearby Belleville and walking down the street with her sister - six-month-old baby son along in a stroller - when she spotted it.

It was a stained glass store.

"Now, I knew what stained glass was, but never ever came in contact with it."

She went inside and began to chat with the gentleman there, who was nice enough to bring her in back and let her score some glass.

"I was hooked," she says.

"What turned into a fascination, turned quickly into a passion, which here I am now today, hopefully, trying to make a career out of it."

Today, home is Little Bay-Marystown.

Gouzvaris and her husband, George, moved to Newfoundland four years ago, after about 13 years in Brampton - at his insistence. The couple had visited the area when they were still dating, and he fell in love with the people and surroundings.

Now she has set up her own studio in an old shop in Little Bay and teaches others the art of stained glass.

Making stained glass

Just like the man who so generously gave her that first experience with stained glass, Gouzvaris offered up the opportunity to show this reporter how to make his very own piece - a mitten ornament for the Christmas tree.

Leading up to the holiday season, she and her students have been working on various Christmas decorations - mittens, stockings, doves and angels - from patterns she has made herself.

She has also made several larger, more elaborate pieces, including Santa and holly wreaths. Her favourite is a Christmas goose wreath.

Stained glass begins with a pattern.

Three copies of a pattern are made all at once. You start with a piece of white construction paper, followed by a layer of tracing paper face down, then a piece of ordinary brown wrapping paper and another layer of tracing paper.

The pattern goes next, followed once again by a piece of tracing paper, all stacked on top of one another.

"You tape all of these down so they don't move on you, and then you trace out. Press a bit hard on your pencil. Then you get three copies all at once instead of having to do one and do one and do one."

The pattern is then cut to the outside of the traced line with a pair of scissors or, in the case of interlocking pieces, shears with three blades, which automatically allot the necessary space for the solder to follow.

"You cannot do a big project that you want to fit anywhere without shears. Your pieces just won't fit. It'll get too big and it will grow."

Once you have a pattern selected, it's time to choose your glass.

There are many options.

"The ones that you can see through are cathedral; the ones that have a milky appearance to them, that's an opalescent. You can get rough rolled, smooth, different textures. There's one called firelight ... there's so many different varieties of what you can have."

She gets her glass from a supplier in St. John's, who in turn brings it in from Nova Scotia.

Gouzvaris also bought up what she could get her hands on before leaving Ontario and shipped it to Newfoundland in wooden crates.

The hard copy of the pattern is then laid on the glass, traced with a marker, cut in mainly straight lines to the inside part of the line using a cutter and snapped off before smoothing the edges with a grinder.

"If you cut right on the line and it's a perfect cut, you still have to grind because once you put your foil on, if you smooth your fingers across it and you get a little edge you can cut yourself like I did this morning.

"Cutting yourself is part of the trade. I'm cut up all the time."

Process continued

Once you've finished grinding your individual pieces and are happy they fit together well, you wrap the edges in a thin copper foil, which has a sticky side like tape. The foil is then burnished with a "fid" to make sure it's strongly stuck to the glass.

"You do all your pieces at once. Depending on the project it could take you an hour, or it could take you five minutes."

Before soldering the seams together, flux is brushed or sprayed on the project to help fuse the parts together.

Without it, the solder will not adhere to the copper foil. The remaining visible copper foil is then tinned.

"What you're doing is just putting a thin layer of solder over your piece. It will be flat in appearance on the glass and what this allows it to do is to flow in between the glass, to stick them together."

Solder is then used to build beads, which provide strength and beauty at the same time. Then the project is neutralized to remove any kerosene (used in the cutting process) or other foreign objects left on the glass.

Neutralizing involves washing the piece like you would a plate or glass in the sink, being careful not to let it soak, using a combination of water, baking soda and dish liquid. If any patinas are added (a finish colouring instead of silver, such as black or copper), the piece must again be neutralized. Finally, the piece is waxed.

"It'll give it a shine like you will not believe."

Voila, one ornament, ready for the Christmas tree.

Learning the art

Gouzvaris began her own stained glass education shortly after that first experience in Belleville. She enrolled in an eight-week beginners' course being offered at the local community college in Brampton, loved it and wanted more one-on-one time.

So she started visiting local artists, who taught her how to choose a pattern, what glass to select and how to properly cut it.

"There's nothing like learning from the artists themselves because they have their own perspective on stuff. They do things certain ways."

Back in Newfoundland, she began quietly working on her own, producing pieces as Christmas gifts for relatives and the like.

"Then, when I actually showed people what I did they were like, 'You've got to start a business. I want to learn,' and then I had people approaching me on the street that I never met before.

"So, basically, that's how it started evolving - people want this, people want that. Then people want to learn."

She began offering classes this past October.

Buying your own tools to start can be expensive, but she noted once you have them they could last for a long time if you take care of them.

"I've had most of my stuff from when I basically started.

"When I started out, I had to buy my grinder, my breakers, my grousers, my runners. I had to have my own cutter, my own roll of copper foil, my own container of flux."

With the exception of glass and copper foil, everything else is provided in her classes. Once students finish her introduction to stained glass, she welcomes them back to use her studio at an affordable hourly rate.

Gouzvaris indicated the classes have provided an alternative for those looking to try something new. She said they often take on the feel of a social event, with chatter, giggling and laughter heard throughout the studio.

"If you don't go to bingo, if you don't play darts, what do you do?

"It's fun. Everybody's doing their own project so you feed off everyone else's energy, and that's what I like about it."

Geographic location: Brampton, Newfoundland, Belleville Marystown Little Bay St. John's Nova Scotia Ontario

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