As a child, Jane Crawford often got distracted in church. Instead of listening to hymns or sermons, she often found herself lost in the church’s beautiful stained glass windows and the stories they told of the Garden of Gethsemane and the Good Shepherd.
She remained entranced by stained glass well into adulthood, and apprenticed with artist Bill Backstrom, from whom she learned the craft.
“He was a member of the church I attended. I apprenticed with him for a year, with no pay,” said Crawford. “But the very first time I cut a piece of glass, I knew. This is what I’m supposed to be.”
Almost 30 years later, she still loves glass. “I told someone I was addicted to cutting glass. I just cut it and cut it and cut it,” she said.
Her passion is experimenting with the way different types of glass mix together, whether it be in stained glass pieces or with fused glass, which melts together to create new looks and patterns. And with hundreds of pounds of different kinds of glass stored in her barn and home studio, she says she has plenty to keep her busy for a while.
“One of the things with glass is there are so many ways to go, fused glass, mix, leaded pieces, bubble pieces, flash glass….,” Crawford says she is certain that she will never run out of ways to experiment with her art.
And she has plenty to do. In addition to doing custom stained glass pieces for churches, businesses, or private collectors which feature everything from traditional biblical scenes to colorful ornate patterns, she also specializes in home décor pieces. These pieces include side and garden tables with fused glass tops, wind chimes with stained glass stars on beaded strings, and hanging wall décor featuring glass flowers with every petal individually cut, mixed, shaped and fired in her kiln before being carefully arranged and hung. Every piece she sells is one of a kind.
“I love to see how many combinations I can come up with. Two are never the same,” she said. “I don’t want to do the same thing again. That’s boring.”
Crawford once had a shop in downtown Columbus, but now operates out of a home studio in Columbus, which is filled with organized boxes of half-done projects, each waiting on one element or another to be completed.
“I can’t work on one project. I have to work on several projects,” she said. “I can’t go in one direction at a time; I have to work on 12 projects at once.” One box is filled with wind chimes that are beaded, strung, and only waiting to be hung. Another is filled with carefully matched glass, laid out and pre-cut pieces in the shape of rectangles. One day they will be family name placards with carefully sandblasted letters carved into the center piece of glass. Several of these are hung around Crawford’s home, with the family name casting light from the windows.
“Just when you get one process going and decide what you want to do…. you get another idea and go that way,” she said. “And sometimes things will sit there for a year before I figure out what to do with them… I almost always find the right thing at the right time.”
“When I close my eyes at night, that’s when I figure out stuff for tomorrow.”
Her home craft pieces, like the family name placards, tables, wall flowers, and wind chimes can often be seen in the windows at the Rosenzweig Arts Center or at local festivals like Market Street.
With custom windows for churches or businesses, Crawford works closely with the owner to figure out what is needed for their space. “With churches, it’s usually the same design repeated. The scenes are challenging, but the end design is the best part. You go from a clear window to WOW all of a sudden. The transformation is amazing.”
Crawford said she has done a lot of repairs in the last few years. “The metal actually breaks down before the glass does,” she said.
She says her husband Bob is very supportive of her art. He works for Verizon and maintains computers at cell sites. “He loves the glass, praise God,” said Crawford. “He gets paid for his job and, well, I get paid for mine sometimes. We’ve had great years and lean years. I know the Lord God has his hand in it all.”
The pair has one son, Lindsey, who lives in Atlanta, Ga. with his wife Anna and their son Reed.
“When he was going to school at Millsaps in Jackson, they had some sort of farmer’s market on the weekends. He was trying to make a little money so I told him he could sell some of my stuff on commission. Many years later I saw a lady who said that my wind chimes looked very familiar. It turned out she had bought one from my son.”
While Crawford is constantly trying new things with her glass, she has a few classics that don’t change very much. “Even the wind chimes change,” she said. “But basically they’re the same that they’ve always been. We keep adding things, but you keep going back to what people always like.”
“I try to use the glass’s strengths,” she said. “I don’t worry so much about the design. I like to think that I could live with every piece I could make… and sometimes I have to.”
One particular item she is known for is her stained glass stars. “People might know me for anything else, but they’ll remember the stars. I found these centers years ago from one of my suppliers. These weird molded pieces of glass that were found in a man’s warehouse after he died. They somehow made the perfect star center…I bought everything they had.”
“I couldn’t afford it at the time,” she added. “I’ve tried to make my own centers; they’re just not as much fun. I’ve seen other stars, but these stars, the centers are so cool. They have no purpose other than to look cool. I only have green and yellow left, and when they’re gone, they’re gone.”
Crawford is currently experimenting with a new project involving glass chrismons, a Christian symbol representing Jesus Christ. They are often handmade and used as ornaments for Christmas trees or during advent. “I’ve been wondering how I could better represent Christ of Christmas,” she said. Early experiments have produced trinity fish with gold paint. “It’s a pet project,” she said.
“I’ve had such fun these past few weeks,” she said. “Everything I’ve pulled off the kiln, I’ve loved.”
Crawford’s business, Stained Glassworks, can be found online at www.stainedglassworks.org.
For information on custom pieces, she can be reached at 662-329-2970.