It’s not just for church windows and grandma’s lampshades anymore. In the hands of contemporary artists like Boulder’s Hannah Hazel, stained glass is looking downright mod.
Armed with a Bachelor of Design degree, Hazel left Iowa and moved to Boulder about seven years ago. She tried her creative hand at floral design, wall decals, cycling apparel graphics, and hand-carved rubber stamps before falling in love with stained glass, thanks to a class at a local craft store. Fascinated by the meticulous process, Hazel continues to learn and experiment in her sunny little backyard studio, where she creates original glass designs that meld traditional techniques with bold shapes and luminous colors.
5280 Home: How do you transform stained glass into something that speaks to a modern audience?
Hannah Hazel: Most of us know stained glass as an antique art form found in churches or cathedrals: large, rectangular panels with colorful, intricate designs based on realistic subjects, or traditional florals combined with geometric backgrounds in a symmetrical layout.
As opposed to starting with a rectangle and filling it with a design, I like to create illustrations that ignore those parameters. Because I focus exclusively on hangings that are not permanently installed, my designs are not limited to filling an existing space. I would describe my style as minimalist with clean lines—an uncluttered, uncomplicated feel. A lot of my designs are monochromatic or involve an intentional color palette.
Tell us more about your design process.
I live and breathe through my sketchbook—I play around with forms until a design feels balanced, and not necessarily in a symmetrical sense. I’m constantly seeing new shapes in nature, or on my cereal box, that I want to experiment with. I try not to overcomplicate designs.
While working on a new design, I always ask myself, “Would I proudly display this in my own home?” If the answer is no, then I scrap it. I wouldn’t describe my home as perfectly modern by any means, but I am particular about the aesthetic feeling fresh.
How do you make color decisions?
I don’t think about color until I’m out of my sketchbook. I’m cautious of color and respect its power. Traditional stained glass uses a very wide range of color—sometimes the entire spectrum in one piece—but too many colors in one piece is very overwhelming for me. I spend a lot of time moving small samples of glass around in my studio windows before landing on a color scheme, and I enjoy using multiple tints and shades of one hue to build subtle contrast. It might sound silly, but I’ve only recently started to work with the color green. For a long time, it was a color that I’d only use sparingly, or avoid completely. I’m not sure I’ll ever get to a point of using purple; that’s one I really struggle with liking.
What tools do you use?
When I decided to try making stained glass at home, after taking the workshop, the teacher invited me to her studio. I bought one of her old glass grinders and a couple pairs of pliers, and she sent me with a long list of things I’d need to get started. I definitely felt in over my head after seeing how many tools and how much space is required.
On a mission to acquire everything I’d need, I met a woman through Craigslist who has been working with stained glasses for two decades. She has a huge glass collection and a wealth of knowledge to share. Since meeting her a year ago, I visit a couple times a month to stock up on sheets of glass and always end up picking her brain about something. I’m learning more every single day.
Do you feel a connection to the tradition of glass-working?
I stumbled upon an estate sale one weekend—of an unnamed, deceased stained-glass artist. I remember wandering around his studio feeling a huge mix of emotions. Seeing every nook and cranny packed with years and years’ worth of supplies made me sad that I didn’t know this man personally. How much I could’ve learned from him! I felt like I didn’t deserve to take tools and materials from his collection to call my own, while also feeling like this was a chance to let his apparent love for the craft live on through me. I filled my car with as much as I could and went on my way. The last thing I took was a small agate stone ornament that I found hanging in the corner of his studio, which now hangs in my studio in his honor and reminds me to keep going.
Although I’m still very new to this craft, I look forward to the day that I can pass tools, materials, and knowledge on to someone else yearning to learn.
You describe your pieces as “radical.” Why?
Before I started working in this medium, owning stained glass felt unattainable. Like many people, I’m currently renting a home and do not have permission to permanently install anything. I create stained-glass hangings that are not permanently installed into a window frame, but hung by a hook at the top of any window. Being a renter should not exclude you from being able to own and enjoy stained glass in your space! I want to create art that is accessible.
Why is stained glass special?
It’s always changing! Dynamic light sources let us experience the glass in all different phases of the day. If you think about how many times you’ve stood in front of your kitchen window, working through a pile of dirty dishes, the light shining through a stained-glass hanging can brighten even the most mundane tasks.
I have a pale-yellow eyeball hanging in my bedroom window and I love waking up to it. For me, as it peers out the window, it’s symbolizing a new day—eyes wide open and ready.