Featured photo: Janet Smith (right), owner of Glass Room Studio, teaches Kay Moore (left) and Karen Owen (center) how to solder the edges of their stained glass windows during a class at Glass Room Studio on August 12. (Emma Kirkemier/Messenger)
By Emma Kirkemier, Editor-in-Chief
Glass artist Janet Smith invites community members and aspiring artists to come and try their hand at stained glass at her studio in downtown Gadsden.
Smith owns the Glass Room Studio on Duncan Street, sharing a building with Escape Day Spa.
“I like working with students because I like seeing their eyes and the surprise [when they realize]”I can do it,” Smith said.
A retired Glencoe Elementary School teacher and stained glass art teacher for two years, Smith takes her class with her wherever she goes.
“When I retired from teaching, I couldn’t stay home,” she says. “I wanted to do something that I loved and loved. Stained glass has always been an area I’ve wanted to delve into, and by taking classes and just learning, I’ve (been able to) pursue the art. Whenever I work with a group of students, I also learn and it’s always great fun.
Smith welcomes everyone into her workshops and classes, from stained glass enthusiasts and artisans like her to complete beginners.
“It’s because she’s a fabulous teacher,” said Karen Owen, a Gadsden native and Smith’s sister-in-law. “She has the patience of Job.”
Smith taught Owen and Kay Moore, director of Downtown Gadsden Inc., how to make stained glass ornaments in the classic shape of colored light bulbs.
She showed the ladies how to wrap copper wire around the bases of their “light bulbs,” creating an old-fashioned screw-in light bulb effect and preparing the parts for soldering.
Smith applied flux to his piece, explaining that the substance would trigger a chemical reaction that would bond the solder to the copper foil and wire.
“It’s just like what plumbers use when working with copper,” she explained. “The flux settles the copper and causes a chemical reaction for the solder to stick.”
The solder Smith used was a compound of 60-40% tin and lead, respectively. Although both metals have relatively low melting points, the necessary reaction requires intense heat.
Smith said her soldering irons were set at 700 degrees, prompting Moore to remark that she “[doesn’t] even use a curling iron.
According to Smith, the solder application is a process called “tinning” the edges. Despite their fears, Moore and Owen successfully tinned their parts.
Smith said that while she teaches students to hold irons carefully, she generally only accepts students over the age of 16 for safety reasons.
“I think if they can drive a car, they can work a 700 degree iron,” she joked.
However, the teacher herself had to become a student before she could launch her dream studio.
Smith said she started working with stained glass when she was in high school and had “tried her way at it over the years” until when she retired she was able to pursue this hobby. full time.
She found a mentor in David Schlueter, artist and owner of Buck Creek Stained Glass in Helena, with whom she first took lessons and then served as a sort of apprentice. Smith said she gleaned “about 80%” of her knowledge of the craft from restoring stained glass with Schlueter.
“We’ve worked on pieces as big as these tables,” she said, pointing to her large, raised work table. “He got parts from all over the United States, door panels and everything. A lot of church glass would come, and we had to replace pieces in the church glass, just individual little pieces of glass. There are many things in this process.
Smith began working independently as an artist for Lookout Mountain Goat Ranch Originals in Attalla. She sold stained glass there from early 2020 until the ranch closed due to COVID-19 concerns. Although she was devastated by the loss of her friends’ business and her own artistic outlet, Smith said the closing of the ranch ultimately put her on the path to creating her own studio.
“It was a blessing to move here and to this little room, and I met so many wonderful people,” she said. “I still have students coming from Tuscaloosa, Atlanta, Birmingham. It was amazing.
Smith’s husband, Bill, is a carpenter, a trade she says has proven invaluable to her artistic interests.
“I share this beautiful little home with Mary Benn, Escape Day Spa,” Smith said. “It was a beauty salon. Bill and I walked in and he renovated it for me for my stained glass window.
While her studio at 401 Duncan Street in Gadsden only comfortably accommodates four students at a time, Smith said she runs an “open work studio” with flexible hours, meaning she schedules classes by appointment. yourself instead of sticking to fixed weekly hours.
Smith encourages her friends — like Owen and Moore — to come to workshops or classes together. It allows students to create memories with loved ones as well as stained glass artwork.
Smith is preparing to hold a series of three workshops in September at Barefoot Mercantile & Co. in Oxford, leading up to the festive season.
For more information or to book a session, visit The Glass Room Studio on Facebook or call 256-390-4008.