Sebago artist makes stained glass window art to keep winter blues at bay

 

GRAPES CAPTURED IN GLASS — Barbara Crummett holds the stained glass art that she designed for the owners of Vivo’s Italian Restaurant, Joanie Wilson and Jimmy Burke. Crummett said it was the first big piece that she had done in almost 16 years. (De Busk Photo)

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

SEBAGO — Barbara Crummett sees the potential in glass.

She envisions the rise and fall of the ocean in blue glass. She visualizes an orange poppy or a blazing sunset in those warm hues of glass. She once made the tail on a fox so realistic that people thought she had painted the lay of its fur onto the glass.

“I see things in glass that other people don’t,” she said, adding her artist friends have often asked her if they can tag along when she shops for her material.

More than 15 years ago, when her second husband Sterling Crummett died, Barbara took down the sign for her stained glass business in Northern Maine, and she stopped doing her art. With the exception of some palm-sized stained glass ornaments, Barbara quit doing stained glass art.

“Sterling was my inspiration and my support so I had no reason to continue doing it,” she said. “He was always proud of my work.”

A FOILED HEART
A HAPPY HEART is trimmed in foil as part of the stained glass artmaking process, as shown by Sebago resident Barbara Crummett. (De Busk Photo)

By Dawn De Busk
Staff Writer
SEBAGO — Sebago resident Barbara Crummett, 83, knows it takes time to create stained glass window art in the tradition of Tiffany’s.
“You know what it is: Patience. You have to have a lot of patience,” she said.
It is an art process that Barbara becomes absorbed in — sometimes for hours at a time.
Her friend and frequent customer Mary Cobb was visiting on Sunday to put into word how talented Barbara is at this time-consuming art medium.
“She is a master at choosing a piece of glass. She isn’t afraid to cut into the middle of the glass for the perfect color. Other (stained glass) artists don’t do that — they try to conserve their glass,” said Cobb, who has a college degree in art and is a teacher.
“I’ve looked at a lot of people’s glass and Barbie Crummett is a great stained glass artist,” Cobb said. “She doesn’t think she is awesome, but she is.”
Plus, Barbara is self-taught.
After a hiatus of a decade and a half, Barbara rekindled her love affair with stained glass. In the basement of her log cabin in Sebago, she has all the tools and equipment of the trade.
However, she sold her zinc grinder to the owner of Treehouse Glass Studio in Sebago. So, for the final steps of the process and for purchasing more glass, she takes a drive down the road.
Barbara doesn’t refer to her basement as her studio but rather she calls it her workspace. In the winter, she throws logs on the fire and turns on the television for background noise.
“I run the TV. Someone talking keeps me entertained,” she said.
And, with those small details taken care of, Barbara put her nose to the grinder. (Actually, she owns a couple of glass grinders in different sizes.)
This is how the process of making stained glass goes.
The first step is to pick a pattern, which is also called a cartoon. The pattern paper is similar to one for sewing. Essentially, it looks like puzzle pieces. The artist traces one shape of the pattern onto a piece of glass. The tracing paper leaves behind a white mark on the glass.
The next step is to cut the glass with cutters. That happens after the glass is oiled.
Then, using a diamond grinder, the piece of glass is shaped. Barbara said for more curved shapes like “the cleavage of a heart,” she uses the smaller, more fine-tuned grinder.
Tracing and grinding requires a steady hand and focus, she said.
“I stay within the line,” she said.
The next step is to foil it. The foil comes in spools like sewing ribbon or electricians’ wire.
“I use copper foil. That is the Tiffany method. Every piece has to have copper foil,” Barbara said, adding she shies away from lead foil.
After each individual piece of glass is trimmed in foil around the edges, Barbara uses a fid. The fid is a small tool used to press down the edges of the foil and to make the foil stick better to the glass.
Then, she uses her soldering iron along with a wet sponge to keep the glass moistened, which was required in the cutting and grinding processes.
“The secret of soldering is to keep the solder seams the same size. They should be consistent,” Barbara explained.
The solder smooths out the foil.
Another thing to keep in mind, the solder makes the glass hot so Barbara is careful as she turns it over to solder the other side.
“One thing I do that most people don’t do is I put beadwork around the foil. It is time-consuming but worth it in the end,” she said.
“Every piece of glass has to go through this process,” she said.
Then the shaped and foil-trimmed glass pieces are returned one-by-one to the cartoon. Barbara likened it to putting together a puzzle piece. She doesn’t put the stained glass image together until each piece meets her standard, her vision. Often, her decision for the perfect border comes later as the stained glass image comes to life with color and texture.
“This is where you make your moon,” referring to a moonrise piece she did last winter. “You have to have a great eye.”

After his death, Barbara packed up her belongings and sold the cabins the couple operated in Ellsworth. She moved to a half-finished log cabin in Sebago. She enlisted Sterling’s brother to help her finish the home where she now lives.

The seasons passed and the years went by. Barbara earned an income cleaning a few private residences in the region. She stayed busy with seasonal chores: mowing her own lawn, putting in a modest garden and stacking her firewood.

Two winters ago, Barbara fell into a funk. She got blue as some people do following a major surgery. She was 81 years old then, and she knew she needed something to keep herself productive and mentally occupied.

Meanwhile, her daughter Laurie Crummett-Tranten became her cheerleader and her agent.

“Last winter (in 2015–16) I encouraged mom to maybe make some glass again,” Tranten said.

It was an idea that sat quietly at first and then sprang into action.

“I’ve done glass for years. I didn’t want all those boxes of glass to go to waste,” Barbara said. “Instead of wasting my life, saying, ‘Ho, hum, this is it,’ I decided why not do something creative? In the winter it gets dull, so why not get creative?”

Making stained glass art in the old-fashioned way is a challenge, she said. So, two winters ago, Barbara took on the challenge of creating stained glass pieces again.

“I had not done it for years. I had three pieces to repair. I hate repairs. I cleaned the bench. I found a picture that got my fancy and I started cutting glass again,” Barbara explained.

“It unburns your mind,” she said.

Word got out much faster than the Sebago resident could finish the artistic window hangings. After all, stained glass art is a very time-consuming project. Secondly, her daughter was posting photos of the pieces on Facebook.

“Laurie is my agent. She wants to keep mommy busy,” Barbara laughed.

“Mom has created so many beautiful pieces, from large windows to smaller pieces which are now on display in the Sugarloaf area. She designed a mountain piece with the Carrabassett River running through it and a night moon at the top,” Tranten said.

“She is gifted in that she can always look at a piece of glass and know instantly what to do with it and even with rheumatoid arthritis in her hands, she continues to foil her pieces with perfection, which is what makes her pieces stand out from others,” she said. “People from across the country have requested pieces from her over the years. And, my little dynamo of a mom has no idea that she’s talented or that her work is great.”

Barbara said she did not want to brag about it although her daughter and a close friend with a college degree in art were more than willing to sing her praises. Barbara excels at creating stained glass window art in the old-fashioned style like Tiffany’s. Her art is self-taught from the time 30 years ago that her husband presented her with stained glass equipment for her birthday.

“I don’t do this for the money,” Barbara said. “I found out years ago that people don’t pay for a piece what it is worth in the hours it took to make. But the smile on their face when they see the stained glass — that’s worth more than the check they write.”

“It is not the money. It’s the satisfaction I get when someone cherishes what you made,” she said. “I’m not a rich girl.”

In April, Barbara marked a couple occasions. Her 83rd birthday was April 19. A week later, she presented a commissioned work, a stained glass window hanging of purple and green grapes on the vine to the owners of Vivo’s Italian Restaurant, Joanie Wilson and Jimmy Burke.

Her artwork got much admiration from employees and customers there. Before the Friday night dinner rush, Wilson hung the stained glass art in the window so the light would hit it just right.

“I’ve done so much stained glass in my day. But nobody ever threw me a party,” Barbara quipped.

The request for the iconic grapes on the vine stained glass piece was serendipitous. Barbara was having dinner at Vivo’s one evening and talking about the stained glass piece she was working on. The conversation was overheard, and Barbara was asked to do a grape design for the restaurant window. The size was 12 by 17 inches.

“Oh, boy, it consumed my life for a month. I didn’t work on it steady. I did two or three hours in the morning, two more in the afternoon, and by 4 p.m., I had enough for the day,” Barbara said, adding “I am 83 years old. So I have to respect my limits.”

Already, people have lined up requests for Barbara’s stained glass. One lady wants one of Mount Kineo, and Barbara has been studying photos of the rather flat-topped mountain and trying to decide what color the sky behind it will be. However, like most folks in the Lakes Region, her summer is very busy. Therefore, winter is when most of the activity happens in Barbara’s work space.

“I do this because I have to do it. The reason I went back to doing stained glass was to save my mind from being bored all winter,” she said.

She commented on presenting the stained glass window at Vivo’s.

“That moment was precious, the look on their faces, the thrill of putting it up so the light hits it just right,” she said. “They will never forget who made the glass.”

Laurie Tranten has a virtual art gallery of her mom’s work on her cell phone. The elementary school teacher considers her mom an example of “living life to the fullest every single day.”

“I love that some day when mom is gone, my friends will have a piece of her. That is what I love,” Tranten said.

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