KETCHIKAN — Terry Leberman, a local glass artist, exudes the fervor of a convert when he talks about making glass art.
“Oh God, what a feel,” he said, grinning and swooping his hands to imitate the motions of learning to blow glass at a Whidbey Island, Wash. workshop.
“It’s exciting,” he said.
Leberman’s studio is a labyrinth of several connecting offices downtown Ketchikan. Finished and in-process glass pieces gleamed on work surfaces and brilliant sheets of glass jutted from vertical shelving.
Two glamorous Tiffany reproduction lamps towered in the center of the main work room. One shade featured dragonflies soaring end-to-end, surrounded by jewel-toned glass pieces, and the larger one glowed with red flowers in a field of green glass. Leberman said each shade weighed more than 45 pounds.
Leberman is a collector of Tiffany art books, and focuses much of his time on replicating the famed lamp designs. Louis Comfort Tiffany was an artist in the early 1900s who became famous for his glass art.
Leberman’s work has been featured in Association of Stained Glass Lamp Artists calendars. His “quilt” square of a spider mum design also was chosen by that organization to be part of a 42-pane traveling window, featuring squares from artists all over the world.
He said the traveling windows are placed in varying locations such as hospitals and other public places during the year.
Leberman said he started making stained-glass art in about 2005, when he retired from his Ketchikan Gateway Borough code enforcement job. His passion was ignited with a glass-bead workshop in Portland, Ore. He said he since has attended that workshop every year but one.
Leberman said he also has enjoyed learning to fuse glass in his kiln.
Leberman’s special interest is reproducing Tiffany lamps from patterns he purchases. He cuts out each of the hundreds of pieces from a paper pattern, then uses a light table to lay the glass over the pieces as he cuts. He said part of the fun is choosing exactly which part of the glass he wants to choose for each piece, because the glass has subtle shadings, swirls and textures in it.
“Each piece of glass has to talk — has to sing,” he said.
The glass piece edges are fitted with foil tape, then placed on a lamp-shade form that is covered with sticky wax. After the pieces are fitted, like a jigsaw puzzle, he solders lead joints to meld the pieces together.
He said his larger lamp with the flowers took about six months to finish.
Fellow artist Sharyl Hall joined Leberman in his studio to talk about her work. She and Leberman met at the first stained glass class he’d taken, taught locally by Rick Erdrich, although Hall said she had dabbled in stained glass work about 30 years earlier.
“We’re a spin-off from there,” Leberman said.
Hall and Leberman said they’ve sold quite a bit of their art, but Hall said she mostly gives her pieces to friends and family.
“We sell as starving artists,” Leberman said.
Hall said she mostly sells pieces so she can buy more glass. Leberman agreed, calling his passion for the art a “compulsion.” He said the color and beauty are what make him continue.
“It’s a painting when you’re through,” he added.
Some of the hanging pieces Hall had brought to Leberman’s studio were created using lead “came” strips that have a groove in one side to hold the glass edges. She said that was a method she sometimes prefers to attach glass pieces to each other rather than using the foil-and-solder method.
Leberman said he enjoys the process of improving on all of his skills every time he works.
Leberman and Hall agreed that the most difficult aspect of glass art is that it is expensive, especially in Ketchikan, where so few supplies and tools are available locally.
That aspect of glass art has been an obstacle Ketchikan High School art teacher Louise Kern has worked hard to overcome in her desire to give her students the chance to try glass art.
She said she has focused on having students create glass mosaics previously as a way for them to learn how to create their own designs, to choose colors and to cut glass — which is quite challenging. Concave shapes are the most difficult she said, because glass “wants to run straight.”
She said she asks students always to begin hand-cutting their glass because it is a challenging skill.
“The best way to learn how to cut glass is the old-fashioned way,” she said.
The department recently has acquired a ring saw, however, which is an electric glass-cutting machine that resembles a sewing machine.
Kern said she learned how to created stained glass art at the Southeast Alaska Regional Artfest several years ago.
One of the festival teachers, Debbie McMahon of Petersburg, learned that Kayhi’s art department could not afford stained glass materials and collected leftover glass from Petersburg artists. She then brought the glass to Kern when McMahon was in Ketchikan with her daughter, who was playing basketball in town.
Now, Kern said, she asks for a $10 class fee from each student to help pay for materials.
In addition to stained glass, Kern said she is teaching students how to use the kiln to make fused glass art using molds to create curved dishes, plates and bowls.
She said she has been experimenting with making slumped-glass pieces in the kiln with recycled glass. She said she recently made a small piece using glass that was broken from a fire extinguisher case. She is careful to never mix types of glass, because each type must have identical rates of expansion when being heated and cooled for the projects.
She said she hopes eventually “no glass will go to the garbage at all.”
Glass artist Lisa Sayer started making her art about 10 years ago after she took a class.
She said she enjoys drawing her own designs. She displayed several pieces she’d created in her First Bank office, including a blue heron, a dynamic circling wave piece and a morning glory flower vertical table-lamp cover.
She especially enjoys Alaska and water themes, she said.
She also has begun to make fused-glass pieces. When she moved to Astoria, Wash., for a couple of years, she was so happy to have materials available that she said she stockpiled them and bought a kiln before she returned to Ketchikan.
“I needed something for the rainy days,” she said.
Knitting, pottery and other types of crafts have captured Sayer’s imagination over the years, she said, but, “once I started stained glass, I don’t touch anything else.”
Sayer said she would like to see local glass artists come together to create a guild, or some type of group that could meet regularly and share ideas, tips, and work together to build camaraderie.
April is national Glass Art Month, Leberman said, and he hoped people could become more aware of the variety and breadth of local glass artists.
Sayer said she would enjoy having the glass artists in town come together and build the community.
“I wish we had more people doing it here in Ketchikan,” she said.