The Las Vegas slogan says, "What happens here stays here." But, I've been asked to write a tell-all essay about my personal experience at the 2007 Glass Craft & Bead Expo. Stained glass enthusiasts may not have been the hippest group in Vegas that week, but you really can't find a nicer group of people.
To put my experiences in context, I suppose I should give you a brief explanation of how I came to be a part of the stained glass world. My grandfather and father were both skilled stained glass artisans in Austria. Post World War II they spent a lot of time repairing church windows. When they immigrated to the United States, they worked in a glass studio in New York. My father eventually choose a different career, but continued to make an occasional lamp or custom window. Twenty years ago, I begged my father to make a window for my new home. Three houses later and still asking for a window, he finally said, "Well, why don't I teach you how to make one." What an experience that was! My father insisted that my first leaded glass panel be my own design. It measured approximately 36" x 24". My father emphasized minimizing material waste, the tools were antiques, and there was no need for a grinder! I would not recommend this approach for most beginners. I, however, wanted more! I began to read every book I could find on technique, design, and history of stained glass. It was all very fascinating.
When I retired from a part-time computer consulting job in 2005 I decided to use my last paycheck to attend Glass Expo. While I originally expected to only go the one year, I have now gone three years in a row. Each time my focus is on a different aspect of stained glass. The first year it was on techniques and tools. I wanted to see what the difference was between the traditional green fletcher terry cutter I had been using and some of the newer designs. The second year I wanted to know more about reinforcement, installation, and design issues. This year my focus was on stained glass as a business.
I took 5 classes this year. The first was Vicki Payne's Flawless Soldering class. 90% of the work I do is in lead came. I enjoy doing lead came, and only use foil when I have to. Since I am contemplating teaching classes, however, I thought wanted to see how a well-known professional in the field teaches soldering. I enjoyed her class. She is relaxed, funny and very approachable. I learned my soldering is much better than I think it is.
Next was Stained Glass Cabinet Door Designs by Denny Berkery. His book, 300 Stained Glass Cabinet Door Designs was one I had purchased several years ago. I appreciated his laid back nature. He wasn't afraid to admit to his trials and tribulations in the process. I left his class fired up and determined that this is an area I should pursue.
No trip to the Glass Expo is complete without a class from Tommy G. & Joe Porcelli. I took their Bench Session class which covered a wide range of topics — a little bit of everything, and whatever you wanted to ask about. I got a lot of my questions answered here. Maybe it's the high energy level and enthusiasm they have, or maybe it's because I grew up in New York and listening to them I felt like I was back in the neighborhood, either way they always put on a good class. Over the last 3 years I've taken several of their classes, and I always learn something new.
Installation Techniques was the only class I was disappointed in. But this was because I had not read the class description carefully. I was hoping to learn a lot about the installation of custom leaded glass windows, doors, sidelights, reinforcement etc. While the instructor did talk about some of these issues, it was a small portion of the class. The majority of the class was focused on displaying and installing fused glass. Those who were into fused glass seemed really excited about the class. The instructor, Michael Dupille, was great, and he provided handouts which is always nice.
My last class was Take it to the Next Level. This turned out to be an unexpected gem. The teacher who was supposed to teach the class didn't show up, but the substitute they sent us was great. I'm sorry to say, I didn't write down his name. I believe he was the creator of The Flow Magazine. In this small class of about ten there was a lot of discussion on how to market yourself, where to look for business, advertising, pricing, and other issues associated with how to move from hobbyist to professional.
The exhibit hall itself had a wide range of vendors. I only looked at those related to stained glass. There were some bargains, but not many. It is, however, a great place to look at new tools and actually try them out. My advice is to take your favorite supplier's catalog with you so you can compare prices, talk to everyone, and ask questions. I only have two complaints. The first is that they weren't as generous with samples this year. In five classes only one had copper foil samples they gave out. The other is that it was difficult to hear in some of the classes. Two of my instructors had to yell over the sound of the blow torches and hammering in the next partition.
So will this be the last year for me? I say yes now, but who knows by next year, I'm sure there will be something else I want to learn.