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To the casual observer, a piece of stained glass art is just that – a pretty piece of art. But talk to Bernie Evans and you’ll quickly learn that working with stained glass involves a logical process that requires patience and problem solving skills as well as artistic ability.
Bernie is the mild mannered owner of Bernie and Max Stained Glass Studio in downtown Chillicothe. The studio is a resource for all things stained glass including the tools and supplies for creating glass art, classes and workshops to learn the process, restoration and repair services for older panels, lampshades, and the creation of unique stained glass pieces for purchase. The walls of the retail space are lined with sheets of stained glass in nearly every color imaginable and the store features locally made stained glass pieces – both large and small.
What is surprising is that the business started out as just a hobby. Bernie explained that he had some health issues that put him off work from the paper mill in 2005. “I needed something to keep myself from going crazy and I just started playing with it,” he said.
After returning to work for several months, Bernie decided it was time for a change so he retired from his job and started the business from his home. He eventually moved into a small retail space in downtown. The business is now in the old Oddfellows Lodge on Paint Street, providing about 14,000 square feet of space as opposed to the 1,400 square feet available in his first storefront.
When asked how he learned the art, he said he is completely self-taught. “One of the things I got from my grandpa is my ability to pick things up pretty easily, to be able to learn on my own,” he said.
Employee Pam Hatton was cleaning a stained glass lamp when she chimed into the conversation. “His problem solving is incredible! Ingenuity is the word that comes to mind. If he can’t find the tool he needs, he makes it. And he can make or fix anything,” she praised.
He says that practice and patience are key to working with stained glass. “Practice and patience. Patience and practice. Students always want it to be perfect the first time and it just doesn’t work that way. It takes time to learn, practice to be perfect and you never stop learning,” he said.
He teaches the art in classes, workshops and other group settings that cover introductory to advanced techniques. His Introductory Class teaches the basics of the copper foil method of stained glass construction. Students will also learn about safety in glasswork, how to work with patterns, how to cut glass, grind, foil and solder. This class is typically held the first and second Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is limited to six students.
Another popular class, the Lead Came Class is more advanced and teaches students how to construct panels with strips of lead came. This class is scheduled when there are enough interested students.
They also offer a class that teaches more advanced students to work dimensionally by building their own jewelry box or lamp shade. In addition, they welcome groups and parties for fused glass workshops.
Pam, now retired from the VA, came to Bernie and Max as a student. “That was about six or seven years ago and I just never left,” she laughed. Now she works a few days a week, creating lovely pieces that are sold in the store.
Larger pieces can be created for residential, church or commercial clients. For example, windows of all sizes, kitchen cabinet doors, lamps and wall hangings are commonly created here.
As much as Bernie loves talking about stained glass and the education the studio provides, his eyes light up when discussing the restoration and repair services they provide. He seems most at home in his basement workshop where workbenches are covered in hundreds of multicolored tiles related to his current project – the restoration of a chapel window for Chillicothe Correctional Institution.
Each restoration piece is brought into the workshop where it is documented and rubbings are made before the piece is taken apart, the lead is removed, the glass is cleaned and it is put back together again using appropriate restoration lead.
Each case is unique. For the CCI project, Bernie had to design and fabricate special metal frames for each large section of the 26 foot tall, twelve foot wide window. “We never shy away from a challenge,” he acknowledged. “I like working on the old stuff. I like getting my hands on something that’s 150 or 175 years old,” he said with reverence.
That thought led Bernie to discuss the abundance of stained glass windows that have been damaged by the very methods employed to protect them. He talked about efforts taken in the last fifty years to protect the windows from acid rain, vandals and other threats by covering them with panes of glass or plexiglass. Unfortunately, when the sun shines directly on these windows, the air space is heated to a high temperature and the lead used to construct the windows is softened. “They thought they were doing good but, to do this properly, you need ventilation at the top and bottom to allow for air circulation. Now we are facing the consequences of these well intentioned actions,” Bernie explained.
While there are stained glass studios like his in Ohio’s cities, it’s uncommon to find this specialty in a small town. “There are very few that do this kind of work so we get a lot from outside the area. Columbus and Cincinnati have studios but there’s no one else left in southern Ohio.”
He credits his mother Mary Lou for her involvement in the studio from the very beginning. “She got involved and was an integral part of the studio. She was here every day, making stuff until the age of 85,” when she passed away Bernie recalled. “We still have a few of her pieces here,” he explained as he pointed to the corner that was her workstation and where some of her last pieces she made still hang and will never be sold.
The other important character in the studio is a six year-old Pug named Bruno who is sort of the store’s mascot, watchdog and host rolled into one. Bruno comes running when customers pop in and ask for him, basking in the glow of attention. Bruno is clearly the apple of Bernie’s eye as the little dog provides both comic relief and companionship throughout the day.
Bernie is reluctant to share about the good things he does for the community but it is clear that the East End native and retired firefighter/EMT loves his town. He speaks fondly of a three dimensional guitar lamp that he donated to Rock For Tots several years ago. It sold at auction for $5,000. The next year, the buyer donated it back to the auction and it sold for another $7,000. “I just couldn’t believe how much it sold for and that it sold for even more the next year,” he recalled with a hint of pride in his voice.
After chatting about the ins and outs of the business, its origins, the cast of characters that come through the door and modern threats to antique stained glass, there was just one topic left to cover.
Who is the Max in the studio’s name?
Bernie chuckled at this question. “Max was my first pacer defibrillator,” he said, explaining that it’s official model name was Medtronic Maximo but Max for short. “The reason I was off work to take up stained glass in the first place was my health. I literally couldn’t have done it without Max,” he grinned.
They are open Tuesday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.