It’s doubtful James Lewis would introduce himself as an artist. He often describes himself as a retired police ofﬁcer.
And sometimes he likes to say, “I’m a recovering politician,” after his 12 years as a Hinsdale County Commissioner.
But with works of art numbering almost 1,000, spread to all corners of the country, Lewis is, among his other titles, certainly an artist.
The Cedaredge resident handcrafts beautiful stained glass creations. Even this, though, he’s quick to deﬂect by saying, “Sunlight through the glass is what makes it work. It’s nothing I do.”
Stained glass is a craft he’s honed over several years. He ﬁrst picked it up one year before his retirement. He and his wife, Peggy, decided that come retirement time, they’d better have a hobby or two to keep them occupied. After a photography class that wasn’t their cup of tea, they stumbled into a shop that was offering classes on stained glass work. James signed up. After four half-day sessions, he’d learned the basics and was sent out to practice the craft. He made small pieces for his two daughters, but abandoned the art for a few years before picking it up again.
After spending several vacations in Lake City, James and Peggy moved there from Dallas. James bought and ran a grocery store while Peggy ran a gift shop. The two were busy with their second careers until Peggy ordered a china cabinet that had no doors. “She told me, ‘You will put stained glass on these,’” James said. And he did. That project served as his jumping off point to his new hobby.
The stained glass business started to become an actual business when Peggy put a few of James’ pieces in her store. Soon custom orders were coming in. In between running the grocery store, eventually selling it, and his political career, James sharpened his skills in stained glass art.
Much of his work is in Lake City. Every church there, save for one, has at least one stained glass window crafted by him. Several homes have windows or door panels made by him, too, and a few businesses.
When the Lewis’ moved to Cedaredge 10 years ago, James downgraded the size of his workshop. And while his work has tapered off some due to the smaller space, he still manages to keep busy crafting windows, door panels and sculptures.
James’ personal favorite project was the door panels for his daughter Cathy’s new home in Dallas. Using a sheet of pale iridescent white with light pink swirls, he created a series of roses for the door.
A friend of the Lewis’ in Delta commissioned a large 5-foot-by-5-foot stained glass window for her home that is the view off her back porch and of four horses. Peggy drew some of the design, and the horses were designed off of photos. The window is so large that James had to do it in four pieces.
In the 1960s, when members of the Presbyterian Church of Delta replaced their old stained glass windows with new ones, a member saved some of the old glass. James got a hold of the glass pieces soon after he moved to the area and began attending the church. Last fall, when the church celebrated its 125th anniversary, James crafted ﬁve crosses using the glass, which were rafﬂed off to a few lucky members. He also made the door panels to Westminster Hall, adjacent to the church.
He made a three dimensional glass angel that was about 10 inches high. It was so popular he began making them for craft fairs, as gifts, and as special requests. He estimates he has made about 250 of the angels. He’s also made angel choirs and nativity sets using stained glass.
Besides here locally and in Lake City, James’ work is in Pennsylvania, New Mexico, California, Florida, Texas, Arkansas and Nevada.
It’s easy to look at a photo of James’ work and say that it’s pretty. But take a closer look and you’ll see that in those pretty pictures is an incredible amount of work. James uses the Tiffany method of creating his pieces.
Each piece of the design is scored from the glass by hand, using a glass cutter lubricated with cutting oil. After the piece is scored, he breaks the piece off the sheet of glass. The edges are wrapped with an adhesive copper tape and then soldered together. The pieces are then ﬁtted together, like a puzzle.
A difﬁcult enough process, until you look at much of James’ work and see the curves and slopes in the designs, all which are scored by hand. “I hate straight lines,” he said. He also prefers to create animal or nature scenes, and doesn’t like geometric designs.
Right now James is working on a free standing sculpture. He made two identical panes that feature two ﬁsh swimming in cool blue water surrounded by cattails. His plan is to create a ﬂowing water sculpture with the panes, so it looks as if the ﬁsh are actually swimming in moving water. He plans to have the piece done this summer.
After that, he’ll tinker around in his workshop, creating pieces for his church’s annual holiday art and craft fair. In the past, he’s made the angel sculptures for the fair, but he plans on doing something different this year.
“I passionately love to do this work,” James said, his hands gliding over sheets of glass in all colors and patterns. “It’s fun, and it’s relaxing, and every once in a while I do a piece that someone wants to buy and that makes me feel good, too.” The sheer number of windows and door panels (between 400-500) is a testament that people love his work more than just occasionally.
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