Thursday, March 4, 2021

Color, Form, and Family: Chet and Carol DeFurio on the art of stained glass

Like many retirees, Chet and Carol DeFurio enjoy traveling and seeing the country. Little could they have imagined that on a cross-country train trip, a visit to the H. Driehaus Gallery of Stained Glass at Chicago’s Navy Pier would lead them to begin new careers and a family business.

“It blew me away,” says Chet. “I found it very intriguing, how they put colors and forms together. It was very interesting to me.”

The visit made enough of an impression that once home in Spring Mills, Carol decided to search for stained glass art classes for Chet. She found them at the Art Alliance of Central Pennsylvania, and promptly signed him up.

“I encouraged him to take that class because I knew how much he enjoyed the museum, and I knew he would get a lot out of it,” she says.

Today, the couple runs Our Glass, a thriving stained glass business they operate with granddaughters Phoebe, 15, and when she’s home from college, Chloe, 19. They sell the majority of their work – sun catchers, flower pot picks, glass birdhouses, and even jewelry boxes – at Belle Mercantile in Bellefonte. In addition, they sell pieces through the business’s Facebook page, Our Glass.  They also do custom work that has included images of client’s horses and dogs, snowmen, and penguins. One of their larger pieces, a stained glass window measuring 18-by-86 inches, hangs in the vestibule at Sprucetown Methodist Church.

Happy to spend time enjoying their hobbies – woodworking and hunting for Chet, playing guitar and ukulele as well as doing some woodworking of her own for Carol – the couple never had any thoughts of starting a business. For Carol, the former operation manager in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, and Chet, manager of renovation services in the Office of Physical Plant, both at Penn State, making stained glass with their granddaughters was simply a fun hobby.

“We’re certainly not in it for the money,” says Carol. “It gives us purpose. After having high-stress jobs, it’s something we can do when we want to do it.”

“Honestly, we did it for gifts and to hang in the house,” says Phoebe. “But then they started running into people who wanted stuff and they started to think maybe it could be something more.  I don’t think they ever expected it to do as well as it did.”

The first class Chet took, an eight-week course, had only four members, ensuring a lot of one-on-one time with teacher Kenney Plattner. Chet enjoyed it so much he ended up taking two more classes.

“It came to Chet naturally,” says Plattner, who has been teaching at Penn State for 43 years, in addition to teaching at the Art Alliance and other schools in the area. The very nature of stained glass, he says, draws people in. 

“It’s a medium that’s a little mysterious,” he says. “Virtually no one else works in glass, cutting it and shaping it. It requires a special skill.”

For Carol, who had her own power tools for woodworking, it also came easily. “It was no problem,” she says.

Intergenerational collaboration

In the workshop, creating pieces is a collaborative process. 

“Carol and I bounce ideas off each other all the time,” Chet says. While many commercial patterns are available, as well as programs that will create custom patterns, when it comes to creating custom orders, Carol and Phoebe “do it the old-fashioned way,” according to Carol, sketching out patterns.

Carol says Phoebe is the real artist in the family. “I’ll watch her draw something and think, ‘I wish I could do that,’ she says.

For both girls, having their grandparents value their contribution is gratifying.

“I was really happy they think the work I’m doing is good enough for their business,” says Phoebe. 

“It shows a lot of trust in us, that it has their name on it and they allow us to have a part in it,” says Chloe.

For Chloe, it’s the more mechanical side that appeals. “I never considered myself artistic,” she says. “But I like working with my hands, and to me, it feels more like building something than creating art.”

Finding glass to work with requires traveling to places like Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Maryland. Colored glass is available online, but Carol finds what you get often doesn’t match the color as it appeared on screen. “Their reds are oranges and when I want red, I want red,” she says. 

Growing up, Chloe and Phoebe spent a lot of time with their grandparents, in the woodshop, painting, doing crafts, or just hanging out. Any time with their grandparents, who “do everything together,” is a good time, Phoebe says. “They’re always together. They’re both very artistic and creative, and they always make us laugh. It’s just the way they are.”

For Chloe, as satisfying as knowing they’re contributing to their grandparents’ venture has been, it’s the time together that means the most. “For me, it’s an excuse to spend more time with them.” 

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Robin Crawford is a freelance writer in State College.