BY SHALEEN DESTEFANO
Hannah Hazel hand creates one-of-a-kind window and wall hangings out of glass. Her pieces beautifully couple an ancient art form with a modern and minimalistic design that intensifies with light sources. We were grateful to learn more about her process and inspiration.
My history as an artist goes way back, beginning when I was around five years old. I was drawing, painting, breaking stuff and putting it back together, collecting and “selling” items to my family, always scheming a new project. When I look back, I don’t actually believe my skills or talents particularly shined, but my attitude was always the same, “I’m an artist and I’m here to make art.” I never considered anything else. I realize there’s a natural hesitation to shy from the title “artist” until it’s how you make your living, but I don’t believe that. Being an artist is an attitude, it’s a way of seeing the world, it doesn’t have anything to do with money.
As you might’ve guessed, I went to school to pursue art. I was fortunate enough to attend college where I studied a variety of art forms. I was hell bent on not choosing one focus for the rest of my life. I studied landscape architecture, interior design, space planning, bookbinding, graphic design, figure drawing, and more. On one hand, following graduation, I didn’t exactly feel “qualified” to do anything. I remember feeling like I knew a little about a lot. The direction I chose was Colorado for some fresh air and a new start. I gathered work experience in floral design, custom sticker and wall decal production, and cycling apparel graphic design. It eventually occurred to me that none of those things were satisfying enough, and a desk job just wasn’t for me. I missed the days of studio work in college and solving problems with my hands. Out of curiosity, and ongoing struggle to sit still, I taught myself how to carve rubber stamps as a side hustle. To my surprise, the business grew quickly and ultimately provided a legitimate reason to quit my desk job. I carved full time for nearly three years, including my own designs, custom logos for small businesses and taught a handful of workshops. But it ran its course and in true fashion, I segued to working with stained glass in early 2019.
I’m no stranger to craft workshops, especially ones where I leave thinking, “that was cool but never again.” However, the stained glass workshop I took in 2019 was a completely different experience. I knew before the class was over that I wanted to pursue it further. The class was hosted by an older woman armed with decades of experience at a used art supply store in Longmont which has since closed. It was nothing fancy, a couple foldable tables and a group of six of us. Three giggly retired women, a young couple, and me – all of us there to learn something new. We were guided step-by-step on how to create a simple lotus flower in an oval frame from a traditional pattern. Some of the participants loved the design, but for me not so much. What captivated me was the intricacies of each part of the process and the potential I saw in how these processes could be applied to contemporary design. After the class, I expressed my heightened interest to the teacher and we stayed in contact which eventually led to an invitation to tour her home studio. There, she provided me with a long list of all the materials, tools, and safety equipment I would need to get started. She was even kind enough to send me with one of her old glass grinders. From there, I dove in head first.
The ancient art of stained glass is rich with history and each piece seems to tell a story. How would you describe this allure?
Traditional “pictorial style” stained glass dates way to the 1800’s (and before) when, yes, it usually told a story. Stained glass can be like a painting, but with an extra level of life. The tradition and global scale of the stained glass art form is not lost on me. I feel it every day when I cut, grind, and solder. One of the things I love most about it is that it transcends a wide range of design styles. My tastes and experiences have led me to explore it in a minimalist style. Across the board, the feedback from people has been really positive. They have been able to see my intention in applying a traditional art form they’ve seen in their grandma’s farmhouse to a modern piece they would want to display in their living room. (Hi, Grandma, no offense!)
Overall, the biggest allure of stained glass for me is partnering with light. When a piece of art is dynamic and dependent on a light source, it allows us to experience it in all different phases of the day. If you think about how many times you’ve stood in front of your kitchen window, working through a pile of dirty dishes, multicolored light shining through a stained glass hanging can brighten even the most mundane tasks.
Though your creations may stem from an old art form, each of your pieces are beautifully minimalistic and modern. Can you tell us a little bit about your process and how these two ideas come together in your work?
My process usually starts with giving myself a rule or two. It’s a technique that was shared with me in school and it might be the most important thing I learned. I realize it might sound constricting, but for me, when there are no boundaries or guidelines, the reality of too many options becomes paralyzing. A “rule” might be to see how many variations of using only one or two shapes together I can come up with. I try not to over-complicate designs. I play around with forms until a design feels balanced, but not necessarily in a symmetrical sense. Another “rule” might be to start with an old drawing from the past and build off of it until I’m somewhere new. Not stopping until the original drawing is unrecognizable. Sometimes I don’t like the place where I end up, but most of the time this exercise acts as a springboard to see an idea in a new way. Regardless, these rules usually lead to subtle continuity in a collection, something I always strive for.
Another important part of my process is considering the accessibility of my work. Most of us recognize stained glass as an antique art form found in churches, and usually permanently installed to last a lifetime. As opposed to starting with a rectangle and filling it with tons of color and intricate design, I like to create pieces that go beyond predictable shapes. Because I focus mostly on hangings that are not permanently installed, my designs are not limited to filling an existing space. Rental homes and apartment spaces approved!
Working with color seems to be such a fascinating part of the art form. How do you make these decisions and where do you find such interesting glass?
I very rarely use color in the beginning of my process. I guess I’m kind of old school in that I don’t use an iPad or computer to create my drawings. I like to sketch in black pen, and I often use tracing paper to quickly create multiple versions of an idea. Color comes into play after I know the shapes and movement of my design. I spend a lot of time moving small samples of glass around in my studio windows before landing on a color scheme. Generally, my work lately has incorporated a lot of muted, earth tones but as you can guess, the options are limitless.
Stained glass not only comes in hundreds of different colors but textures as well which can add an entirely different dimension to a piece. A favorite of mine, one that appears in most of my collections, is Bronze in a Rough Rolled texture. On the other hand, I rarely find myself reaching for highly saturated or bright colors. I find that too many colors in a single design can be overwhelming for me. Time and time again, I’m drawn to using multiple tints and shades of one color to create subtle contrast.
Most of my glass comes from a local warehouse that distributes glass made in Oregon, California, and Indiana. I also like to scour estate sales for old stained glass that I can give new life to. At the beginning of my stained glass venture, I stumbled upon an estate sale of a stained glass hobbyist who had passed. Their entire basement was dedicated to the craft. I remember wandering around the studio feeling a huge mix of emotions. Every nook and cranny were packed with what looked like decades worth of supplies. I remember thinking that I didn’t deserve the tools and materials from his collection to call my own, while also feeling like this was an opportunity to help him live on. I decided at that moment that I would never forget this stranger’s “kindness” and I filled my car with as much as I could and went on my way. The last thing I took was a small agate stone ornament I found hanging in the corner of the studio, which now hangs in mine as a reminder.
We’ve been following you from the beginning and we’ve loved seeing how your pieces have changed over the years. You’ve made glass jewelry and pieces inspired by the human form. How do you see your style evolving in the future?
One thing I love about glass, maybe even the thing I love most about it, is its versatility. It lives in its own space between strong and sensitive. It can withstand all kinds of weather, it can be the surface of a coffee table, it can be a vessel, it can be jewelry. It’s everywhere when you start looking for it. Despite its strength and multi-functional properties, it’s also one of the most sensitive materials. It can shatter in a moment; it has a mind of its own and a single crack can lead to complete ruin. To cut glass, all it takes is a lightly scoured line and flick of the wrist. It’s cheesy, but I have developed such respect for this material and feel much like an assistant to it versus the other way around.
So far, I’ve explored applying stained glass to window hangings, wall hangings, jewelry, mirrors, and vessels. Using these as a baseline for what might be ahead, your guess is as good as mine. Generally, I see myself revisiting past projects and apply lessons I’ve learned since. A second or third whack at something can have an unexpected outcome, especially if some time has gone by. Sometimes our greatest inspiration can be ourselves. Specifically, I would like to explore vessels again and I dream about creating light fixtures. If I could team up with an electrician willing to push boundaries and answer all my silly questions, you might see a line of hanging lights available down the road.
You’ve been creating art from your Boulder studio for over seven years, but you’ll soon be heading to the land of enchantment. So many of our favorite local artists have decided to pack up and head to New Mexico. Can you tell us what inspired this move?
My partner and I have been visiting New Mexico, northern New Mexico specifically, since we met seven years ago. Although we live in a quiet neighborhood in east Boulder, escaping the hustle of daily life and heading for the hills is always the “slow down” we craved. We are fortunate enough to be officially moving there this summer, to the foothills of the Sandia Mountains between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The desert landscape, the deep-rooted history and cultures, the vibrant art scene; I could go on. These are all things I look forward to experiencing and I’m anxious to see how they impact my work. I plan to build out a studio and connect with as many local artists and collectives as possible. You’re welcome to follow along on my Instagram (@hh_glass), I’ll be sharing about this transition and developments as they happen.
You have several stockists here, where can we shop your beautiful creations?
I’ve been really fortunate to have made so many good connections with stores and groups in the Front Range who have gone above and beyond in supporting my work. Here are my local stockists: Arvada – Balefire Goods | Boulder – Jones + Co. | Denver – Buckley House of Flowers, Museum of Contemporary Art, The Sursy | Lafayette – Thalken.
What will you miss most about Colorado?
*Grabs a box of tissues* I will miss everything. Living in Colorado has been an absolute dream that I’ll never forget. I moved here in 2014 looking to “start my life” after college and have been tasting, hiking, and laughing my way around this beautiful state ever since. All of my memories as an adult are here, this has been the place where so much of my growth as not only an artist, but as a person has taken place. I came from rural Iowa, and although there is beauty everywhere (including there) living in Colorado has inspired my appreciation for nature, openness to new experiences, and the value of a good adventure, all of which I’ll carry with me forever. Over the past seven years, I’ve connected with so many wonderful people and talented artists that have shaped who I am. Luckily, I’ll only be 6 hours down the road so these relationships can keep growing.
We wish you so much luck, Hannah! New Mexico is lucky to have you. For more information about Hannah Hazel and her glass, visit hannahhazelglass.com.