BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL
“Great work is done by people who are not afraid to be great.” —Fernando Flores
A Queen Anne’s chair had been part of our family furniture for many, many years. It needed recovering. My wife took it upon herself to learn re-upholstery, taught at Riverdale High School, a local high school in Fort Myers. The Adult Ed class was scheduled for evening-night. Not wanting her to go alone, I decided to go with her.
What could I take? Ah, Spanish. “Si.”
So, one evening in January 1990, in the dark of a Florida winter, the two of us drove to register at the school–and take the first of six or seven class sessions, offered weekly.
In a large parking lot for student cars brought in the daytime, few cars were parked when we arrived.
Hallways and closed doors greeted us as we followed signs To Registration. Sue was accepted and paid her fees. “Spanish class is full. Sorry. Are you interested in anything else?” The list before me–Small Engine Repair, Painting I, Macramé, Investments and Retirement–presented nothing. What interested me was the influx of Hispanic-speaking people into our city–and my wanting to be able to give directions or answer questions.
Years of high school Latin endowed me with a knowledge of Gaul and its three parts. “Cui bono?” What good is it? No, no Latin offerings. No Greek (had that, too, for four years). German? I’m embarrassed to tell how little I remember from three years of conversational German. Memorization of dialogues.
Paul: “Guten Morgen. Haben Sie gut geschlafen?”
Hans: “Danke, sehr gut. Ich schlafe immer gut.”
Jim: Bitte, no more German.
So what was I to do while she is upholstering? “Are you interested in stained glass? We need one more student to make the class.” “What’s that?” I asked.
There were no notes to be taken. Mr. Stevens, the hoary-headed teacher, had set out boxes of pieces of broken glass. Colors and clears and patterned. He told us, “Draw something on the piece of blank white paper I gave you.” Then, “Choose pieces of glass and copy your drawing onto the pieces of glass. Keep it simple.”
Fear. Not ever being very creative (my flowers always looking like lollipops), I drew this stupid little sailboat, and then using scissors to cut it into three pieces. Something simple. Fear: of cutting myself, of bleeding all over. I was truly afraid.
Then came the instruction on how to use the glasscutter, wrapping the pieces with sticky copper foil, then trying to avoid burning my fingers as I held a soldering iron to join the three little pieces together–with a little O-ring on top of the mast.
My sailboat, from January 1990: How my creative “juices” were flowing!
This adventure led me to having more creativity than I had ever imagined for myself. Yet fear always remained: of failure; of misjudging; of using my sense-less taste in color.
Nevertheless, since then, I have produced some interesting works: during my kaleidoscope period (no more of those); jewelry boxes (mostly unhinged. No more of those); of lamp making (cheaper to buy now–and well made, too); and some free-formed pieces.
The failures (parrots too small, or wrong colors) have been superseded by the successes: clever uses of well-placed bevels in a large window to catch sunlight to bring prismatic R-O-Y-G-B-I-V colors into a living room. I did some cabinet windows in a renovated 1920s home in Edison Park. (That project was fear-driven: not to mess up when I was just learning the art).
As time went on and my fears faded, I not only became a teacher of stained glass construction but also worked on projects of other artisans. I even worked in glass shops and in galleries. Success.
This story had to be told.
Never, in my wildest, would I ever believe I would be cutting glass (like my Grandpa Schuma tried–unsuccessfully–to teach me how to repair broken windows): for self-satisfaction, for esthetic pleasure, for that sense of “I-stuck-in-my-thumb-and-pulled-out-a-plum-and-said….”:
“I CANNOT BELIEVE I MADE THAT!”
Deo gratias!–a little appropriate holy Latin.
However, since that dark night at Riverdale High School, “I no habla Español!”
© James O’Neil January 2014