There's something about stained glass that creates a certain feeling of enchantment. Maybe it's due to the fact that most people are first introduced to stained glass windows in majestic houses of worship. But even a smaller scale stained glass window in one's living room or a sun catcher casting warm and vivid yellow and blue, red and green light into the room helps to enhance the sense of comfort and home.
But why stop at windows and lamps? A stained glass design as a night-light cover, the top of a jewelry box, or a decorative item can add a subtle but classic touch to any living space. And when those items then also reflect one's interests like a stained glass bat or coffin for vampire enthusiasts, a Star of David for those of Jewish faith, or even images of Spirits for practitioners of voodoo, then these items become even more special and personal, an extension of oneself beautifully represented where they are hung or displayed.
And it's items such as these that New Orleans stained glass artist, Sarah Segovia, has mastered. You can find Segovia's work for sale on her website and on her Etsy store - but also at local shops in the French Quarter like Glass Magick Designs, Erzulie's Authentic Voodoo, and Boutique du Vampyre.
"Sarah is awesome," said Anna Parmelee, owner and operator of Erzulie's Authentic Voodoo, "She takes my paintings and turns them into awesome pieces. She's amazing and we love her!"
Glass Magick Designs was co-founded in 2006 by Segovia and Dawna Luciano, "to help in our little way to bring the city back to some normalcy," in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Segovia parted ways with the shop the following year but her work is still on display and Segovia adds: "Dawna has some beautiful work in there as well."
Segovia's fascination with stained glass began in 1994. Exactly how did this all start?
"I was first introduced to the stained glass medium when my father decided to take a nightly adult education course in beginner stained glass. He came home with glass, tools and solder and a small sun-catcher project. Being the curious type, I helped him cut the glass and fit the pieces to the pattern. We soldered it together, and I held the finished piece, however small it was, up to the window. The light coming through the rich red and deep cobalt blue glass was stunning for me. I immediately started working on another project of my own. I still had plenty to learn, but I was content to dabble in it, getting the hang of using the tools. It was different from any other art form I had worked with and that's what intrigued me."
Segovia then began her formal art training the following year. Has she always been creative or interested in the arts?
"My mom always gently nudged my brother and I toward art classes when we were growing up...I can remember at an early age drawing or painting my favorite cartoon characters and being so pleased with whatever was on my paper. In high school I knew that I wanted to be an artist of some sort; I was just pulled in that direction. I signed up for higher level drawing and printmaking classes, played around with pottery. I took Chinese brush painting classes, learned the Chinese method of woodcutting; getting my feet wet in a lot of different styles of art, and I would love to return to some of them one day, but none really resonated with me as much as working with glass did."
Other than her father's interest in adult continuing education regarding the arts, did she come from an artistically inclined family?
"My mom definitely has been a big influence on me; she has always greatly appreciated the arts. Whether she was dragging me to some museum here, or some gallery exhibit there, showing me books of her favorite painters, she gave me an early appreciation for many different kinds of art. My mother opened a gallery to support local artists work in 1997, and I was able to meet many creative people from all walks of life. What I took away from that is that art is anything you want it to be. In a world where art is looked upon as just a hobby and not a real career, not taken as seriously as other paths, I grew up seeing that it is so important to develop your artistic side."
"What's interesting is that other than my mother, I didn't know of anyone else in my family who had an artistic side," muses Segovia, "After my grandfather passed away, my mother and I were cleaning up his house; I came across some stained glass supplies hidden away in one of the drawers in a cabinet. I had no idea he worked with glass, I never saw anything he worked on so it must have been many years earlier. But while I thought about it, I remembered one day when I was very young, he was examining a stained glass kaleidoscope my mother had on her coffee table; looking at it closely, on all sides, as I do now when I want to see how something is put together. Piecing it all together so many years later I realized that he had the same interest in glass that I do now, although we never spoke of it...I am just carrying on where he left off."
Having spent a year in London to further her studies, what was that experience like for her?
"Coming from a small town in Connecticut, I was just aching to get out and see the world. Being in London and working with other students and teachers from all over the world was quite an experience. I got to see art through many different eyes, and learn what others' interpretation of art and design was. It was thrilling to immerse myself in the British culture; museums, art exhibits, night-life. I think what had the most profound affect on me was that I was able to be completely independent; being so far from home and having to rely only on yourself to get your projects done; get on the train to the other side of the city and take photos of the new public art piece just installed, learn your way around a foreign city by yourself, it builds a confidence you carry with you your whole life. I really miss that city and I hope I can get back there soon."
Segovia, originally from out east, then found her way to the Big Easy...
"I visited New Orleans on the advice of a friend who had just come back from a week-long trip and all but begged me to go. I did, and the rest is history. I officially moved to New Orleans in February of 2000."
Many of her stained glass pieces are NOLA-inspired but there are also Gothic designs as well. Where did the influences arise from?
"I've always had a love for the Romantic Gothic culture, and I saw a great lack of art reflecting the unique designs that I and my friends would love to have adorning our homes. There were plenty of stained glass sailboats and lighthouses, but what if I put my skills to work creating the unusual...Gothic arch sconces! Coffin boxes! No one was doing that, and instead of complaining about the lack of it, I set out to be the creator of it. My first vending opportunity was at a club in Hartford where I could sell some of my designs. It was a good jumping-off point, where I got some useful feedback and start-up business advice from highly artistic, business-minded people. From there, I officially opened my business, and put up my website. When I moved to New Orleans, I wanted to celebrate living here. Walking along the streets of the French Quarter, seeing the fleur-de-lis on flags and signage and artwork, my creative juices started flowing. Thus, my stained glass fleur-de-lis was born. I went through a few different designs to get to one that would translate well in glass, and now these fleurs can be seen at What's New in the French Quarter. There is also a beautifully Gothic side to New Orleans, and I got to place some of these designs in Boutique Du Vampyre, also in the French Quarter."
Is there any kind of subject matter that Segovia would like to create but finds it more difficult?
"This is a tough one...I don't really look at anything as difficult, just something new that hasn't been learned yet. What I mean is, the difficulty factor doesn't stop me from trying it out. I acquired a small glass kiln from a friend who was selling hers, because I had been wanting to work with fused glass, just on a small scale. It's something I have wanted to learn for a while, but never got around to..I guess not knowing much about it has kept me away from it until now. There's still a lot to learn but I love what I see artists doing with fused glass now, and I want to work with incorporating fused glass into stained glass."
Segovia also teaches stained glass the art of creating stained glass as well. How does she feel about being able to pass on her skill and know-how to others?
"Oh, I absolutely love teaching! It's one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. I had been wanting to branch out a little, and I was kicking around the idea of working one on one with students who were interested in learning, but wasn't sure how to get started with that. Then, before my eyes was a job listing for someone to teach stained glass at the New Orleans School of Glassworks' youth summer camp program. My first week, I was hooked. Trying to get a bunch of 10-14 year olds to sit still and concentrate on a pretty intensive art form in the summer when they would much rather be outside playing with their friends was the challenge all of us teachers were up against, but we were there to encourage and inspire!"
"It was just so wonderful to watch these young kids finish their first project, hold it up and see what they have accomplished, then fervently grab paper and pencil to start designing their next project. This meant all the world to me, and I knew that I was on the right path. I began teaching night classes at the New Orleans School of Art & Craft in the Bywater as well, teaching adults at the beginner and intermediate level. What an amazing experience, to be able to teach the intricacies of this craft I love so much to people eager to learn, and I learn and grow right along with them."
In addition to Segovia's stained class creations, she designs and sells jewelry as well...
"I don't consider myself an expert in jewelry making, I just played around with beading and wire working. I began by trying out stained glass jewelry as another facet to the craft, but I wasn't satisfied with what I came up with. It is limiting considering the weight of the glass and metal. My fascination with ancient Egyptian jewelry began my dabbling with bead work, which moved into eventually working with colored wire and crystals. I love jewelry that is delicate and intricate, with just the right amount of sparkle to catch the eye."
When she began her art training it was in painting but she put this medium aside while working on her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Does she paint at all now?
"I received my BFA in Painting from University of Hartford, in Connecticut. I was primarily working with paint all through college, and only working with stained glass as a hobby at that time. I studied Abstract Expressionism, concentrating on artists such as Pollock, Krasner, Rothko, and others; this is where my love for color developed. I would work with the paint mixed with sand for example, to create organic textures on the canvas, and playing with layers of colors and how they worked with each other. I haven't painted since I graduated, as I immediately devoted all my time to glass work, but it's something I have been leaning toward working with again, if only just to see what years away from it will produce."
Does Segovia work a "day-job" like many other artists in addition to her craft?
"I've worked in retail shops here and there to supplement my income, as well as part time work slinging drinks at Tropical Isle bar in the French Quarter, which was more fun than work!"
What does New Orleans mean to Segovia on a personal level?
"New Orleans is strength, perseverance, resilience. This city is where I have experienced a lifetime of love, heartache, joy, despair and enchantment. I've seen it knocked down and I've seen it built back up by the tenacity of its people who love their city like no other. People go with the flow here, and it's where I have learned to be flexible and roll with the punches life throws at you. Here, you can be anything you want to be; you can find your niche. Even if New Orleans is not where you stay forever, it will always be in your heart."
And at her core, who exactly is Sarah Segovia?
"As challenging as making a living as an artist is, I am honored to be able to do what I love every day. My love for being able to create art and have people appreciate it generates such a good feeling, and I want to pass that passion on to others. There is no such thing as failure when you are doing what makes you happy!"
So what does the future hold for Segovia and Fragile Beauty?
"Ultimately, I would like to broaden my customer base through the internet, and be able to fully support myself through website sales and custom orders. It's just my dream to be able to sell my artwork to people who appreciate my talent, and it also helps me to learn more and fine-tune my skills. I'd like to spend more time teaching as well...I want to motivate people to create more art, to be inspired to bring out their inner beauty and to not hold back or be intimidated by what they think they cannot do...great, wonderful, beautiful things can happen when you throw away your inhibitions and fears, and just create."