New Chapter Begins for Stained Glass Artist

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By Wendy Migdal

Stained glass art has been documented as early as the 600s C.E., with colored glass itself dating back even earlier to the Egyptian and Roman empires. Since then it has flourished, waned in popularity, experienced revivals, and evolved.

An Entrepreneurial Artisan

Stained glass has had a similar trajectory in the life of Terri Vieyra, owner of Simply Stained Glass in Manassas. Vieyra first became enamored with the niche art form in 1992, when she took a class with her mother and made her first lamp. But at the time, she had two small children and was working at Verizon.

Vieyra left her job in 2009 and became a full-time caregiver to her mother. Even during her mother’s illness, Vieyra had a yen to produce artisan work for others and an entrepreneurial tendency. “I did a lot of knitting and crochet work because it was something I could do while taking care of my mom. I had a booth at the Farmer’s Market,” she says. “People would stop by and say, ‘Oh, my nana used to do that’ or ‘my nana taught me do that.’” She doesn’t say it, but there must have been something sort of devaluing about their comments.

During these years, her delight in the medium of stained glass was rekindled when a friend took up the hobby. “Stained glass is something more substantial– there’s more to it. Everybody’s nana doesn’t know how to do it,” she laughs. But it remained a small, side interest.

Simply Stained Glass is Born

Then in March 2016, after her mother had passed away, Vieyra opened her store in Gainesville. Originally, she opened the business with a partner. But the partner left in 2017, and since then Vieyra has been teaching classes and operating the retail end of the business on her own.

She also takes commissions and completes many projects for people’s homes, such as transoms and palladium windows. For those works, she lets the customers’ preference and taste direct the creative process. But on her own, she says she gets ideas “when I’m in the shower, or reading a book. It’s like having
two things going on in your head at the same time. When I’m not really focused on it, things will pop into my head. I see something, and think, ‘Oh, I would do that this way.’”

Vieyra says there’s something very satisfying about creating a piece of stained-glass art. “It’s almost like, when you’re in the process of making this, it’s like therapy.”

Stained glass offers a lot of opportunities for creativity. Most people do work off a pattern, but there’s plenty of room along the way to adjust that pattern, and opportunities to play with color as well.

“Most people don’t have a clue what goes into making a stained-glass piece. Every piece is touched at least four times in making a project. So when people want me to do a commissioned piece, and when I tell them what the price would run, their eyes will kind of roll back in their head. I would always offer to anyone, ‘OK, you can take a class, and then in the intermediate class, you can make the piece you’re asking me to make.’ A few of them took me up on it. And then when they come in to take a class, they have a completely new appreciation for stained glass. Most people say, ‘I had no idea what was involved.’”

Simply Stained Glass

Brenda with her under sea window

A Shifting Focus

Her business, which for the past seven years has been primarily a brick-and-mortar-based instructional studio and retail outlet, will transition in June. “I’ve been wearing the hat of everybody, and that’s been wearing me out. It wasn’t my initial desire.”

Now, Vieyra will be focusing on commissioned pieces and smaller works for craft fairs and the like. Currently, she sells her own work in a coffee shop in Nokesville, including small items such as clocks, nightlights, and jewelry boxes. She hopes to continue exhibiting at shows and craft fairs and to achieve about a 50/50 mix between these and commissioned pieces.

She admits that she’ll miss the wonderful people she’s met by teaching her students though, many of whom would introduce her to new techniques or ideas. “People would come in and show me something and ask if I’d done it before. I’d tell them no, but let’s learn it together.”

One of her former students, in fact, is about to become her partner. Brenda Conklin took her first class with Vieyra in 2017. Now, the business will be moving into some unused space in her home, and the two will use it as an artist’s studio. “I’m only one year out from having a pacemaker put in,” Vieyra says, “and Brenda said, ‘Don’t worry about the studio. I’ll keep it open on weekends for you, until you feel good enough that you can get back in the saddle.’“

Vieyra says that no one ever knows everything there is to know about the process of making stained glass, and that she’s constantly learning. She’ll have more time to devote to it though, so keep your eyes peeled. You may catch a glimpse of that colored light that has entranced people for centuries.

Wendy Migdal is a freelance writer who has lived in the Northern/Central Virginia area since 2000. She has written extensively for The Free Lance-Star and also works for online educational companies. Wendy enjoys traveling around the area to learn about parks, restaurants, attractions, and especially history.

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