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May 3, 2005 > Shades of the past

Shades of the past

by Ceri Hitchcock-Hodgson

A Niles craftsman is linked to the past by his passion for a vanishing art form - stained glass. With each piece he creates, Loren Inglish imagines craftsmen of old, maybe hundreds of years ago, working with loving care in the same fashion.

Loren and Betty Inglish own and operate Glass Works, one of the few remaining stained glass shops in the Bay Area. They offer window and mirror repair and replacement, custom shower doors, and other common glass-related items, but what sets them apart are the intense stained glass pieces hanging in the window of their shop in Niles. Each piece, window or lamp, has been carefully fashioned by Inglish following the legacy of old-world masters.

Techniques for making stained glass have changed little since the 12th century when a German monk, Theophilus, described the process in his book, On Divers Arts, a how-to manual for craftsmen -

If you want to assemble simple windows, first mark out the dimensions of their length and breadth on a wooden board, then draw scrollwork or anything else that pleases you and select the colors that are to be put on it. Cut the glass and fit the pieces together with a grozing iron. Enclose them in lead [cames], putting in nails and solder on both sides. Surround with a wooden frame, strengthen with nails and set it up a place where you wish.

The method has remained virtually the same for the past 1000 years: prepare the pattern and select colors, cut the glass, fit the glass to the pattern, paint the figures on the glass pieces and fire harden the painted figures, lead the glass, solder the lead joint, weatherproof the window, frame the window.

Using this ancient process, Inglish has been able to revive the past by repairing, restoring and recreating objects that have sometimes weathered centuries of use. He has restored Tiffany lamps, a black and white Charlie Chaplin piece for a couple in Switzerland, antique mirrors in need of repair and, most often, large church windows.

St. Anne's Church in Union City was the shop's first big commission. So big, in fact, that Inglish had to work on the multicolored giants while standing on a ladder. He has been asked to create and repair windows for churches all over the Bay Area including the famed Memorial Church at Stanford University.

Working on the project, Inglish was impressed by the intricacy and fine craftsmanship of the century-old windows depicting the life of Christ. Each picture window is comprised of three to four panes of glass instead of the usual single pane. This technique creates a stunning visual effect that can be seen from miles; however Inglish's sight is set on the craftsman behind the art.

That, he said, is what inspires him - the creation of the window as opposed to the object itself. With a sense of awe, he says, "I work on something that might be a hundred years old and some man was standing there, putting his artistic ability into it and here I am working on it again."

Would he consider himself an artist?

"I don't know. What's an artist?" he answered.

The intricate designs, fine craftsmanship and use of color in his work would say that he is indeed an artist. Yet Inglish has other reasoning for his skill. He says he is simply a good mechanic and "can figure anything out" from how to replace the most delicate piece in an elaborate lamp to the tricky method of bowing glass for the front of fancifully shaped china cabinets.

When repairing an object, his goal is to leave it looking untouched - as if it were as new as the day it was made - striving for originality and perfection every time. On some occasions he will complete a job, only to find fault with it, take it apart and start over from the beginning. This can be a problem since he usually has five to 15 projects in progress at once. However, his customers know that his passion for excellence and flawlessness will always produce a finished product of brilliant color and precision design.

Fremont residents, Roy and Lee Glover commissioned a custom cabinet and wanted to add something special. Familiar with his work, the couple contacted Inglish who designed and created beveled glass doors that, Glover said, exceeded her highest expectations. The Glovers then asked Inglish to create a stained glass window for their front door - an Iris.

"He read my mind!" said Glover about how similar the finished product was to her vision. As a musician, Glover appreciates the effort and detail he brings to his projects. Her window, she said, is so detailed that the veins of the leaves look different from each side, mimicking nature.

Inglish was not always a full-time craftsman. Years ago as national sales manager for Motorola, he spent two or three weeks a month on the road, overseeing 35 salesmen across the country. Constant travel and demands of the job took their toll and he started working with stained glass as a tranquil respite.

He thinks back to those days and reminisces, "You find yourself propped in your garage with a little heater between your legs, working in the winter. It could be three or four o'clock in them morning before you realize how long you've been out there. You lose yourself in this thing."

After completing a Tiffany-style lamp for his wife, Inglish looked for more challenges. He asked questions of "old-timers" in business, finding out where they got their materials and how they used them. He soon found he had a knack for stained glass and decided to leave the corporate world behind for a shop in Niles.

The business has migrated through several locations of historic downtown Niles but can now be found near the end of Niles Boulevard before it curves to meet Mission Boulevard. Glass Works is a perfect fit among the merchants and people of Niles - a town that prides itself on keeping the past alive. Loren and Betty Inglish agree, rekindling the past, one piece at a time.

The Glass Works
37819 Niles Blvd., Fremont
(510) 794-0388

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