Shining through the art of stained glass

Philly-based stained glass artist to kick off first adult workshops at NLArts in Northern Liberties

Elaina Rivera will lead an adult workshop and teach the art of stained glass. PHOTO: ELAINA RIVERA

By Lindsey Nolen

At age 20, Elaina Rivera moved more than 1,000 miles north of her home in West Palm, Fla., to pursue glass blowing at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Yet, upon graduating, she instead began pursuing her childhood love of stained glass work in Philly, and will be sharing her skills at the first two NLArts’ workshops for adults since the organization’s inception.

While her first class took place on Monday, May 8, another is being held on Monday, May 15 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Northern Liberties Community Center, 700 N. 3rd St.

Rivera will share her techniques and help attendees create one of two suncatcher stained glass pieces.

“Students will go through the whole process of cutting the glass, grinding it to the perfect shape, foiling it using tiffany style, soldering it and putting it together,” Rivera said. “I’m really excited about the class because I love teaching, especially on how to create stained glass.”

Although these workshops will be the first time Rivera has given a stained glass lesson through NLArts, her teaching of the art dates back to her childhood, when, during the summer she turned 10 years old, her parents enrolled her in a summer arts program where she was to be instructed on how to draw animals.

“I remember something happened to the teacher and she had to cancel the class last minute,” Rivera recalled. “The only other class available at that point was a stained glass one, and although I didn’t want to do it at first, it ended up being a lot of fun.”

After realizing how much she enjoyed creating stained glass art, when the summer class concluded, Rivera’s parents purchased all the tools necessary to enable their daughter to continue creating from what she learned. Rivera eventually got her father and sister involved making their own projects.

“My whole family really got in on it, and we all did our own projects,” Rivera said. “As I continued with stained glass throughout high school, I would also have a lot of friends come over and I would teach them how to make [stained glass] as well. Even today, every once in awhile I still have high school friends say, ‘Remember when we did the stained glass project at your house?’”

Since then, she believes her stained glass skills and work have come a long way. From her earlier projects, which included making a fish, dolphin and manatees that were 1.5 feet by 1 foot, the 33-year-old now creates and fixes a myriad of stained glass works with some help along the way from a couple other artists.

“When I graduated from Tyler, I moved to Port Richmond and then Kensington,” said Rivera, who now lives at Amber and Haggart streets. “Although I hadn’t had much time to work on stained glass in school, a friend of mine named Waffle gave me his [glass] grinder after his mother, another stained glass artist, passed away.”

With the tool necessary to grind the edges of glass, cut the glass to the desired shape and take away sharp edges in her possession, Rivera began completing projects and expanded to do framework. However, because there was so much older, leaded stained glass around Philly, she knew she would next need to learn how to work with that type of glass to complete repairs around the city.

“I met a man named Michael Kessler who taught me the basics of leaded glass work for one session in his home,” Rivera said. “Since leaded glass is malleable, I learned how to bend open the channels and pop out a piece, sometimes removing a full portion [of glass.]”

Rivera then found a workshop/studio space she shared with Martin Hickman, the architectural preservationist at Seneca Historic, LLC. Becoming friends, Hickman, who was contracted to complete architectural repairs, would offer Rivera work involving repairing the glass on the homes he was fixing.

“I began getting more and more work, “ Rivera said. “Once I put myself out there, I really found new ways to gain work.”

Despite often balancing a few projects at the same time, Rivera has made glass stained projects into her full-time occupation. Although she may not have predicted this career outcome when she first took to the art at age 10, Rivera says she still finds her work as rewarding as ever.

“It’s all exciting to me. I really like using metaphors, stories and allegories in my work and being creative and painting on the glass,” she said. “When a piece is assembled and cleaned and everything is in its place, it’s the most beautiful thing.”

A lover of art and dedicated artists, Rivera was able to fill all of the attendee spots for her first workshop session at NLArts, but is looking forward to her next session on Monday, May 15. To register for the event, visit nlarts.org.