Patricia Brennan teaches the intricacies of stained-glass art
by Margaret Buranen, Contributing Writer
Patricia Brennan’s artistic path didn’t run straight to the beautiful stained-glass windows she has been creating for years. Along the way, she tried her hand at various forms of art.
“I was interested in learning how to make something that I could make a living from,” says Brennan, who was in Colorado at the time, but now lives with her husband Don Mullan outside of Sperryville, Va. “I tried pottery, macrame and other things. Then I saw an article in Mother Earth News on how to do stained-glass windows. That was the spark.”
A Rappahannock Electric Cooperative member, Brennan says that her work in stained glass “has been a wonderful journey. I’ve learned so much and there’s always something to learn — firing, etching, sandblasting. Learning to create with light and color is such a joy.” Reflecting on both her Irish ancestry and how integral light is to show the beauty of stained glass, Brennan named her business DéDanann Glassworks after Tuatha Dé Danann, a mythical tribe of Ireland signifying light.
For years, she used Celtic symbolism in her glass as a catalyst to learn the silk-screening and sandblasting that she uses today. “So, I named my studio DéDanann and hoped that the little leprechauns would come and help me when I used to do craft shows all the time.”
Brennan also likes to incorporate different techniques into her stained-glass art. She often uses silk screening, hand painting, etching and other art forms.
LEARNING BY DOING
While Brennan has attended a few workshops on stained glass over the years since she first picked up a glass cutter in 1977, she says, “Basically, I’m self-taught. My education has been trial and error. I keep doing it until I get it right. There’s nothing better than your own personal achievement and conquering something you’re learning.”
Technology has influenced the creative process for many artists, including those who make stained glass. When Brennan receives a commission for a stained-glass piece, she creates the design on her computer, using a photo program. Then she emails the design to her customer. The customer sends her feedback and she makes any requested changes using the software.
“I used to have to draw by hand every part of the design, using colored pencils. [This] is quicker and it helps me scale things,” she explains.
Still, creating stained-glass art demands patience. Hand-painting requires special paint that comes in powders. Brennan applies it in layers, firing the glass in her kiln after applying each layer, so that the paint is fused into the glass.
THE JOY OF TEACHING
Brennan enjoys teaching and sharing stained-glass techniques with other people. COVID-19 has limited her teaching, but she has continued working with some longtime friends in her studio a few yards from her house.
“The students don’t compare their work to the other students’ work. There’s no competition and they all learn from seeing each other’s projects. When you compare your art to other artists’ work, you lose your own creative energy and your own [unique] light,” Brennan says.
One of her students is creating a unique stained-glass window for each of her grandchildren, a one-of-a-kind heirloom. Another student has made a number of interesting pieces of stained-glass art in the 17 years she has studied with Brennan.
Working with stained glass means using a variety of glass cutters, pliers (different from household pliers) and other tools to score a line for breaking the glass or cutting it cleanly. Power grinders smooth away any rough edges.
Through the years, Brennan has worked to promote the local art scene and draw visitors to the area through such past efforts as the Artisan Trail. “There’s a lot of power in numbers,” she notes, to emphasize how artists working together also help promote their own art.
Brennan’s studio is located up a jagged-edged road on a 36-acre tract backing up to Shenandoah National Park. For flatlanders, she and fellow artists Heidi Morf and Martin Woodard co-own Thornton River Art. Their Sperryville gallery features the work of about 22 Virginia artists.
The opening was a little scary because it was in the middle of a lockdown,” she laughs. “But we just decided we all wanted to do this together. I’m so proud of it because it’s all local art.”
Taking Wing During a Pandemic
Patricia Brennan was in a quandary. She was lined up to display at an art show in June 2020, during the pandemic, with zero inspiration and no idea of what she would showcase.
Hours became days and days became weeks as Brennan stared out the window of her home in the woody terrain near Sperryville, Va., watching the comings and goings of cardinals and finches around six feeders.
The answer was right in front of her. Small stained-glass birds, but not just any warblers. These would be different birds. They would be Birds of Hope.
“I was very depressed during the era of Covid,” she says, fearing she would waste time, money and supplies on a dud of a show. “The birds made me so happy. So, I made a flock of birds and called them my Birds of Hope — hope that we get out of the pandemic and hope that they make you smile.”
By her own description, Brennan “blows up” her DéDanann Glassworks when she is in bird-making mode. She starts with the bases and recycles excess cut glass into beaks and tail feathers. “I actually let the scraps be what creates the bird.”
Brennan has sold up to a dozen birds a week online and at a gallery in which she is a partner. “The whole time I’m making them, I’m smiling,” she says. “These are the complete opposite of Angry Birds.”
— Steven Johnson