Artistry in glass
By Pat Sunderland
Published Wednesday, May 17, 2017 10:36 am
Dee Brown displays a gallon jug that once held Carlo Rossi wine. The bottle was melted into a mold of the tree of life.
After traveling to the Western Slope regularly to fish at Crawford Reservoir, Dee Brown and her husband Joe decided Delta County would be a great place to retire.
Although the move became a reality 10 years ago, Dee has yet to kick back and relax. She moved from a 28-year secretarial career at the Colorado School of Mines, to operating a business specializing in stained glass creations.
The name of her business, "Splinters and Shards," reflects her extensive work in glass, as well as her husband's contributions as a woodworker who framed her work. He's the "splinters"; she's the "shards." They still work side by side at craft shows.
In addition to stained glass, Dee recycles wine bottles into decorative, yet functional, spoon rests, cheese platters and serving trays. While the recycled bottles sell well, Dee believes they are more of a passing trend, while stained glass will always be a time-honored form of art.
Even when she was working full-time in Golden and commuting nearly an hour each way from her home in Pine, she found time to work on stained glass. She says her husband left for work very early, so they were generally out of bed by 3 a.m. That gave her a couple of hours in her studio before she left for work at 7 a.m. Sometimes she could even squeeze in a few hours of fishing.
"I've probably been doing stained glass for 30 years," she says. The bottles are a sideline in partnership with Ben McFarlin, who does the firing of the bottles in a kiln in Grand Junction.
Dee says she and a girlfriend began playing around with bottles about 10 years ago. They started with brown bottles from Olive Garden that held their house Chianti. The round bottles had long, thin necks. The duo melted them flat, tied some raffia around the necks and sold them as cheese platters. When they sold every one they made, they decided they were on to something. They started experimenting with different kinds of bottles, in a variety of colors, from different manufacturers. Then they decided to work primarily with recycled bottles, so they started hitting bars and restaurants. Friends would leave sacks of empty bottles on the front porch.
Every bottle has to be washed thoroughly inside and out, then small batches are placed in a kiln and heated to 2,000°. The bottle melts down into a textured mold that adds design elements to the plain glass. The bottle is popped out of the mold, cleaned up and finished with wire wrap, decorative beads and a charm that complements the design in the glass. The wire wrap around the neck permits the flattened bottles to be hung on the wall, making them attractive as well as functional.
The final touch is a card describing the meaning of the design molded into the glass. The tree of life is one of Dee's favorites, and a popular choice for wedding and anniversary gifts. The accompanying card talks about the roots of life and the branches of wisdom that connect each another. Another popular design is the dragonfly, a symbol of power, agility and victory. A close look at a third design, the "green man," reveals a face surrounded by leaves, fruit and flowers. This design represents the cycle of growth.
The bottles can be found at 4th & Main Exchange in Delta, Country Flair in Montrose, Cowboy Mercantile in Fruita, Working Artist Gallery in downtown Grand Junction, and a store in New Braunfels, Texas. Dee also melts house bottles for the Holy Cross Winery in Cañon City, and can turn an emptied bottle of champagne into a unique wedding or anniversary memento.
Through trial and error, Dee has learned what quality of glass works the best. Still, no two bottles are ever the same. During the glass-making process, she explains, faulty bottles are crushed and added back into the molten glass. "The minute they put the crushed pieces back in the vat, it changes the composition of the glass, so every single bottle that comes out is slightly different."
Her kiln partner considers a variety of factors, from the denseness of the glass to the weather conditions inside his studio and out, before deciding how long to fire the bottles. Even then, it's a "crap shoot," Dee says. Generally, one out of 15 bottles is rejected.
Dee enjoys working with specialty bottles that have unusual shapes, such as brandy bottles. She has also caught on to the mason jar trend and is transforming Ball's one-pint blue, green and purple jars into small bowls. "They make the cutest little spoon rests," Dee says. "I couldn't keep the blue in stock at Christmastime."
Dee also does some craft fairs, but is phasing herself out of those endeavors because she wants to leave time for fishing and riding her motorcycle and ATV with her husband.
That's one reason she's looking forward to finishing a custom stained glass project for a friend in Texas. When it's completed, the five-foot transom will be installed above a double front door. The design is Dee's own, and the glass was specially selected to make blades of tall grass look as if they're blowing in the wind. Dragonflies and butterflies flit in and out the leaves.
Most stained glass projects are custom orders that reflect the purchaser's interests or home decor. Dee has done cabinet doors, side lights, room dividers, mirrors, jewelry boxes and even wedding cake toppers.
A number of her stained glass pieces are displayed at the Colorado School of Mines and in the homes of faculty members. A retirement gift for one faculty member replicates a panel from a four-story atrium in Alderson Hall. Dee is proud to have helped facilitate this huge project, which covers 600 square feet. The colorful geometric pattern features 48 panels, 12 per floor, that carry the eye up into the soaring atrium. An architectural committee reviewed several "art in public places" proposals before choosing the stained glass project to complete renovation of the hall. Dee was inspired to replicate one piece of the huge panels for a retirement gift.
Because she's been doing stained glass for so long, she's found ways to use up the bits and pieces of leftover glass. The smaller scraps of color lend themselves to suncatchers, Christmas ornaments and mosaic birdhouses. Each shard of glass becomes part of a larger vision Dee carries in her head, a vision that's fully revealed when light illuminates the brilliant colors, textures and designs that are her specialty. To inquire about custom work, call 874-5284.