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Chemist experiments with stained glass

Mark Nelson, professor of chemistry, points out the details in the stained glass art he has displayed in his office, a piece that took more than 100 hours to create. Nelson started stained glass artwork in 2009, and his pieces have already won two best in show awards at the Los Angeles County Fair. / photo by Mitchell Aleman

Amanda Nieto
LV Life Editor

After working with students and chemicals in the lab, Mark Nelson, professor of chemistry, heads home to his workshop where he creates prize-winning stained glass pieces.

For the past two years in a row Nelson has won the first award ribbon and best in show ribbon at the Los Angeles County Fair for his exquisite stained glass windows, with both pieces being his first and second completed works.

“You never know what other people will make and what the judges will think about it,” Nelson said.

This year’s winning window has a final dimension of 24 inches by 27 inches and is set in a dark red stained wood frame.

The center of the piece has four teardrop ovals that overlap and connect with one another, which has a weaving knot effect. This design is set inside a diamond shape, which is then surrounded by a rectangle.

The colors include turquoise, purple, maroon and pearl iridescent glass.

“This last one reminds me of Celtic type with how it flows through and connects to other areas,” said Jane Tickey-Williams, an instructor for 13 years of Stained Glass for Adult Education in Claremont.

The art of stained glass windows always interested Nelson and was something he hoped to try one day.

In 2009 Nelson found a class at the Claremont Adult School where he would learn how to cut the glass, how to make aesthetically pleasing designs and how to put it all together.

“Mark is a perfectionist, he comes up with his own designs and executes,” Tickey-Williams said.

“It’s nice to have an instructor and other students to bounce off ideas with,” Nelson said.

Nelson said that attending a class helps him find time to work on his hobby as well as witness the talent of others in the class.

“It’s nice to see the same people and see what they are working on,” Nelson said.

Nelson’s designs mainly consist of symmetrical shapes.

For this year’s best in show piece, Nelson said he found inspiration by studying basket-weaving designs.

“It begins as a central idea, and as I go on the rest falls into place,” Nelson said.

The process begins with an idea for a pattern, and after hours of refining the design Nelson is ready to make the piece tangible.

He considers colors and glass types when choosing the overall look and tone of the piece.

For example the options of using textured, clear or antique glass with ripples and bubbles contribute to the design.

Once the glass and colors have been selected, Nelson uses a light table to trace the pattern onto the glass.

Nelson then cuts the glass to fit the trace marks as the process progresses, which makes changes in the pattern and shape easier.

After the glass pieces have been cut and refined, Nelson assembles the pieces on a 90 degree angled board. Pieces of lead are cut and placed next to the glass, which is temporarily held in place by horse shoe nails.

Nelson then solders the puzzle like pieces of lead together so they flow into one while connecting the pieces of glass. The front and back of the piece must be soldered to give structural strength to the piece.

Putty is then added to all of the cracks to waterproof the piece and to keep the glass from shifting. The final steps are cleaning the excess putty, polishing the glass and fitting it to a frame.

Nelson says the total process takes about 100 hours of work, and that is not counting the time it takes to sketch the design.

“I’m still learning and I don’t know all the tricks of the trade,” Nelson said.

Along with his class, Nelson finds suggestions and advice from two local specialty shops: Art of Stained Glass in Upland and Redwing Glass Craft in Pomona.

“It’s great to have local resources to choose from,” Nelson said.

Rhonda Bellville is owner of the family-owned Redwing Glass Craft and often lends her opinion to Nelson’s drawings.

“He is very meticulous,” Bellville said. “He is very open to color and I love that about him.”

Nelson said that he enjoys having a hobby that allows him to unwind and relax while still being productive.

Current works in progress draw inspiration from a photo taken of the Red Rock State Park in Arizona and the pattern of crop circles that Nelson saw in an article.

Bellville said that for crafting award-winning pieces for only the last two years Nelson has a true talent and eye for the art.

Amanda Nieto can be reached at amanda.nieto@laverne.edu.

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