A Labor of Love: Stained Glass + Mirrors by Melanie Burrell
Tell us about yourself. Where ya from? How’d you end up where you are now?
I’m from Richmond, VA and I’ve been there my whole life, like literally never moved out of 5 square miles. That sounds pretty sad but I love it haha.
Photo by Dennis Williford.
How did you get into creating mirrors and stained glass? What drew you to work in this particular medium?
I kind of stumbled into it. This woman Twiggy (@twiggylevy) who is now a dear friend, had just moved to Richmond and was looking for an intern. We bonded over a love for Lynyrd Skynyrd when she interviewed me and it all just went from there. My dad has a background in stained glass but wasn’t doing it while I was growing up. I loved it instantly and knew I wanted to continue after the internship ended, so I did, but kind of slowly…like didn’t take it as seriously and really just wanted to do bare minimum while still partying all the time. I got a real studio (outside of my home) about a year and a half ago and that’s when everything started to really get going for me. I decided to work with mainly mirrors because 1) I think they look cool, plus they have a purpose beyond aesthetics and 2) because after working under Twiggy I wanted to have my own thing.
Can you talk about the process of how you create your pieces- from concept to physical glass?
Like everything it starts out with an idea, usually while stoned, an image that I wanna relay, so I research that for a while and get the idea for all my general shapes and shit like that, then sit down and sketch out a pattern. I haven’t drawn much since high school so this is honestly the hardest part. Pattern development is one of the most important steps in the process because it determines the structure of the piece, early on I’d had pieces break and bow because the structure wasn’t sound enough. After the pattern is done I choose the glass I want to use and begin tracing out the pieces using a light board or carbon paper depending if it’s translucent or not. Then I hand cut the pieces, grind them down to their specific shape with a diamond bit grinder (stained glass is kind of just like a puzzle) clean the pieces with alcohol, wrap them in a copper foil (so the solder will stick to the glass), burnish the foil to get out all the air bubbles, then pin the piece together and solder the front and back. After that the piece gets washed, patinaed and polished. The whole process takes hours and hours… I still say stained glass is a labor of love haha.
Photo by Dennis Williford.
You have a lot of “tougher” themes in your work (biker/ tattoo inspired) that you’re able to translate into a delicate/light filled medium. Is there anything to that juxtaposition? What are other themes you like to create in your work?
Honestly, if there is anything to the juxtaposition its subconscious. Growing up my daddy was a biker with tattoos, I have tattoos, basically everyone I know in Richmond has tattoos…maybe actually everyone that I know here haha, so the imagery is definitely around me and sparks my interest but I never sat down and was like ok I’m gonna make tough shit. I have a lot of sketches right now that I’ve gotten a lot of inspiration from 60s/70s psychedelia that I’m excited to put out soon, I’ve actually been drawing some inspiration from my high school sketchbooks which is pretty cool to make full circle.
What are some your favorite pieces you’ve created and why?
I really love the Warpig piece I did and the hand holding the rose, mostly because I’m proud of the patterns, and the added pieces like the chain and dangling glass. I’m trying to get more sculptural in the future. And the daisies. I fucking love daisies. I’m positive that I haven’t made my favorite piece yet but it’s comin.
Any big projects coming up you’d like to share?
Yeah! I’ve got an art show on May 25th at Soft Opening in Brooklyn. I’m making a lot of more intricate pieces that I’m not posting on the internet that I’m really excited about. Y’all come out if you’re around there!
For more on Melanie, visit her website and check her out on Instagram at @melaniebees.