By Lee Noles
CHARLOTTE – After the birth of her third child, Charlotte resident Susan Pfeiffer Selva wanted to do something for herself. Little did she know it would turn into her next career.
Selva enrolled in a stained-glass making class at Gaston College in 1989 and now creates the ancient art form for homes, businesses and churches throughout the area.
“I wanted to get out and do something fun,” Selva said of the class. “It was something I did to soothe myself, and it morphed into something very big.”
The idea started when Selva saw works of stained-glass at local craft shows. Thinking she needed a four-year degree, Selva put the idea on hold until an artist mentioned the adult classes at the community college. Selva enrolled and began showing her pieces before joining a store in Cornelius to gain experience.
She now works from her home after owning her own store for several years.
“I love the freedom of it. I can work whenever I want,” Selva said. “It’s a little more financially freeing. If I have an appointment, I can do that then go in and make dinner or pop a load in the laundry and then work until 10 or 11 at night.”
The process starts by Selva gathering design ideas and color schemes the customer may want. The concepts are then sent to Kat Patrick in Ohio who uses a computer program to generate the preferred design. After getting approval from the client, Selva uses two drawings to create the stained-glass. One is a life-size replica of the design while the other is cut into different shapes and laid upon the glass. Glass cutters are used to carve the design before pliers pull apart the pieces. She smooths the sides before putting everything back together like a puzzle. The glass is held together through a couple of techniques. One involves a soldering iron placed on the joints to keep the glass in place. The other includes wrapping copper foil around each piece of glass before the soldering iron is used.
Selva prefers copper foil because of the precise detail it allows on the naturalistic scenes she creates. She also enjoys brighter colors against the transparent tones she said most people lean toward.
“You can really use a lot of beautiful colors and nature is so beautiful,” Selva said. “You can express the art of glass through the scenes of nature.”
The medium is not without its pitfalls. Selva suffered three herniated disks in her back caused by years of working on stained-glass along with the wear and tear of everyday living. The injury made her lose the desire to create pieces for several years until friends and family encouraged her to produce her work again.
“I guess it is in my blood,” Selva said. “I tried to let it go, but it wouldn’t let me.”
The art form has been around since the Roman and Egyptian empires and grew as churches in Europe used them in their windows as early as 675 A.D. Selva said the medium’s popularity is down because of the economic hardship caused by the shutdown from COVID-19.
The setbacks have not deterred Selva who teaches classes from her garage and produces close to 25 pieces a year.
“I love it so much,” Selva said of teaching. “It’s humbling but it feels good to pass on something that to me means so much. And it is so beautiful. It’s a dying art form. It goes through stages. People like it and people don’t like it.”
Want to learn more?
Visit www.susansgcreations.com to explore more of Susan Pfeiffer Selva’s stained-glass artwork.
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