Brewer and Marr GlassworksApr 24, 2017 11:00AM ● By Jordan Venema
Behind the Glass
Story by Jordan Venema
Photos by Kelli Avila
Hanging in Chelsea Brewer’s living room is a reminder of her grandfather, a stained glass window panel depicting citrus fruit. “My grandparents lived in Santa Paula, which was a huge citrus and avocado town. My grandfather had his own packinghouse, so it’s a reminder of where I came from," says Brewer, but it’s also a reminder of where she is going. “Actually,” she continues, “I want to make my own version of a citrus panel, and sun catchers or something like that.”
Brewer began making her own stained glass panels and sun catchers in 2015, but she had grown up admiring the work of her uncle Mike, a prolific stained glass artist. “He actually made these two window panels, one of oranges and one of lemons,” says Brewer, referring to a piece hanging in her living room.
Brewer is quick to admit her uncle is the reason why she took up stained glass, and eventually began her own business, Brewer and Marr Glassworks. “He would always show up at my grandparents’ house, or my mom’s house – he and my mom were very close – and he would just show up with whatever piece he had finished for that week,” explains Brewer. “I always remember him making things and giving them to his family and friends.”
Dating back to her high school years, Brewer, 34, had always intended to ask her uncle to teach her the craft, but then he died suddenly in 2014. “I thought I had all this time with him for him to show me how to make it, and I never thought to ask him,” she says.
So in 2015, Brewer decided she would take a class. “You know what,” she recalls, “I kept saying I want to start doing this, so I just did it.” She signed up for a workshop over the course of two weekends and fell in love with the craft.
Stained glass proved to be a learning experience for Brewer, who still communicates with her original teacher.
“John – I call him my stained glass mentor – had the class in Ventura where I’m from. I still pick his brain to this day. We bounce ideas off each other, and he’ll let me know if something can be done or not,” says Brewer.
Taking to stained glass was natural for Brewer, who enjoys working with her hands. “Before stained glass, I actually went to school for photography. It was the pre-digital age so I got to use the darkroom and get my hands dirty,” she says. “And I’ve always liked building things with my dad, and screen printing, anything that has a process and requires a certain skill.”
As for stained glass, Brewer admits she expected it to be involved, “but I didn’t realize just how involved.”
There are two methods to stained glass, explains Brewer. The first method is lead came, or what Brewer calls the old world method. “Basically it’s the style that craftsmen have used for centuries and centuries in churches,” she says. The second method, Brewer continues, “is copper foil, the way that I was taught, and the style you’ll see in Tiffany lamps.”
The copper foil process begins by scoring then breaking apart the glass with pliers, which is then shaped using a grinder with a diamond bit. Once cut, the pieces are wrapped in copper foil, “which basically is tape with copper on one side and adhesive on the other. So you wrap each piece, put it all together, then use a soldering iron to adhere all the pieces together.”
Using the copper foil method, Brewer has created her own original line of sun catchers, including designs of cacti, mountainscapes and Southwest-inspired geometric patterns. She also takes custom orders, having even designed sports logos, but she plans to expand to the lead came method, “which is sturdier and stronger and allows you to make larger projects, which is what I’m most excited about,” says Brewer.
Brewer describes her style as somewhat abstract, both angled and geometric, and she acknowledges that her uncle’s has probably subtly influenced her own. “He made mosaics as well, and they were more geometric, so if anything, his mosaics have inspired my style.”
But more than having influenced her style, he remains a reminder and encouragement to Brewer. “I think about him every day, especially when I see some of the window panels of his. He’s always here. And I think he’d be really proud,” says Brewer, adding, “I wish he were around to give me tips and tricks, and so we could make something together.”
Brewer and Marr Glassworks