Artist has a natural passion for creating stained glass

Ten years ago, mother of three, Mary Clendeninn, accompanied her 13-year-old daughter to her first stained glass class.

“She wanted to make my husband a gift,” Clendeninn said. “But the room was all men, so I signed up too.”

What began as a mother’s protective instinct evolved into a full time job making stained glass works of art and fused glass jewels.

Clendeninn’s modest studio near the end of a rutted road in Moloa‘a sparkles with color. Earlier this year her husband and two sons helped her move hundreds of pounds of sheet glass into her studio, which opens officially on Sunday.

“I was working out of our garage,” said the Anini resident. “But I kept tracking glass into the house.”

Clendeninn has transformed her rented bungalow into an artist’s studio. Her living room houses giant molten sheets of glass, a kiln and a small table where she works on smaller pieces. Around the corner is where she works on large works depicting lush tropical and underwater scenes.

Clendeninn’s small fused glass gifts — like envelope openers, purse hooks and wine bottle stoppers — require an entirely different process from the large stained glass work. As many as four layers of glass, multiple firings in the kiln and time at the grinder sizing, make these little gems a good deal of work.

“It’s pretty time consuming,” she said. “But this is what I call relaxation.”

When working on her large pieces Clendeninn begins by taking the vision from her clients description then transferring it on to paper — as a free sketch or with computer software such as “Illustrator.”

“One commission was for a boat at sunset going toward Napali,” she said. Clendeninn used her own interpretation to convey the images.

Other pieces began as photographs.

“The Hanalei church was a photograph,” she said. “I drew lines on the picture.”

The end result of this first rendition makes the now divided photo look like a puzzle. Once she has a color copy of the piece, she refers to it as her “cartoon.” From the cartoon, she works on the pattern for the finished piece.

Often during the compositional phase Clendeninn allows the images to suggest division. One such case occurred while working on a commissioned piece of a thunderbird for a church. Once she divided the image into its puzzle pieces, a natural division in the body of the bird lent itself to the image of a crucifix. The copper lead strips that wrap each piece of cut glass made the distinct lines through the center of the bird.

Another large piece, this one for a chapel being built in a senior living facility, was one more instance when Clendeninn was able to create interpretively.

“It was a non-denominational chapel,” she said. “I told the client it would be abstract and all I knew is it would have a sun in the middle.”

The end result was well received.

“There were 300 people at the dedication and everyone saw something different,” Clendeninn said. One man told her he saw the parting of the seas and Genesis.

“I wanted meaning to be left to the interpretation of the viewer,” she said. “And everyone saw something different.”

Where to see Mary Clendeninn’s work

• Tomorrow at Koloa Plantation Days craft fair from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Koloa Ball Park.

• Sunday studio exhibition opening from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. at 6221 Ko‘olau Road (turn makai at Moloa‘a Fruit Stand). Look for address on left. For more information call 651-3981.


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