Widgets Magazine

Chatting Glass with Southold Stained Glass Artist and Artisan Christopher Syrewicz

Q: How did you come to the North Fork? A: Almost always been a Long Islander; came of age in Stony brook. Moved out there from Nassau in 1966. We used to come out on day trips to the North Fork, really Liked it. I’d cut grapes at Pindar for a couple weeks in the 80s too, had a good time.

My sister and mother got sick, and I retired to be able to take of them in Stony Brook. Mom passed a year and a half ago; I was debating where next—perhaps the Catskills, Woodstock area. But I also thought of the North Fork. So I checked out Southold a year and a half ago, found an apartment, and I really like it.

Q: You still do stained glass art and artisan commissions, so what did you retire from?

A: I was/am a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, helped ill people for 36 years in mental health for New York State, Suffolk County, Brookhaven M.H.M.C. and in private practice.

I got into stained glass in 1974. I was upstate in a state school, and they offered a class in glass media. I’m Roman Catholic and I always loved the stained glass in churches, so I signed up for the class.

Turned out I was good at it and I could just let my creative spirit go. It was the first time I got really creative with art; it really got my motor going. I really felt it was me, my medium.

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I moved back to Long Island to go to Stony Brook for nursing shortly thereafter.

Q: So you started in stained glass 40 years ago upstate, then started studying at Stony Brook to be a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. Stony Brook must’ve been a bit different back then.

A: Yes, it was a much smaller town. I like small towns. In 1975 there was a whole stained glass movement going on in Long Island. I made friends with the artists and artisans in Port Jeff.

I started teaching stained glass at Stony Brook, really started their adult ed program in that. Everyone wanted to learn how to cut glass, make stained glass pieces.

I started doing commission works, and pieces for myself. Made a whole series of stained glass boxes.

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This was all while I was working full time and going to school. I just liked it. It was an avocation and healthy expression.

Q: You said stained glass was really your thing, and the first time that you discovered your creativity. Did you ever explore other media?

A: For about nine years I shifted into mixed media, ceramics, painting some photography. I was working with acrylics and watercolors and inks and found objects and whatever else I could throw together that I thought would work.

Glass work really requires a proper studio. When I got out here I was able to get a nice room with southern exposure and was able to get properly set up, resume my glass work. I’ve got three mixed media pieces going up in North Fork Deli on the South Side of North Road, right next to the East End Eye Associates.

Q: Do you do mostly abstract or representational work?

A: I do both representational and abstract work. I did a nude on the beach; a pier on a Long Island beach. (above)

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I do a lot of floral work, and abstract work that I just like. I do both copper foil, that’s what Tiffany started back in the 1900s to do his lamps, and I also do lead came.

Recently I’ve been using scrap glass and incorporating found elements, fooling with solder itself, and made designs that way. It’s just another technique.

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Q: is there a particular kind of glass you like to work with?

A: I found old pieces of metal in Lake Ontario, used that. I used to use a lot of hand rolled glass from France and Germany, but there’s all sorts of glass now. I like them all.

Q: How is stained glass done?

A: Come up with a design—or sometimes don’t. Doing pieces with scrap glass and objects the design comes after. But conventionally, come up with a design and get it on heavy paper.

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You have to make each piece of glass curable; it’s difficult to do extreme curves. It’s difficult to cut a circle out of a piece of glass. There’s certain techniques to use to do an inside curve. You have to break it down like a mosaic.

You cut out each piece with a basic glass cutter—very hard metal, not too sharp. You’re not really cutting the glass, you’re breaking it. You’re causing a weakness that you finish with other special tools.

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You wrap each piece with copper foil or you use the lead came. With the lead came you solder each joint with the lead tin solder. With the copper the solder takes to copper everywhere there’s copper.

So with the lead approach it’s making a frame that holds the glass in place. With the copper it’s like double sided scotch tape except it’s copper. Each step has its own challenges. The actual construction of the piece can be hard; there’s a lot of precision involved when you’re doing something like a window, the measurements have to be exact.

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Q: Any final thoughts?

A: I believe glass is a medium, not simply a craft. I mean, artisans can craft really beautiful pieces that are made of glass, but glass is also a way to express feelings, concepts—that’s when I find it the most satisfying.

My web site is: www.eastendstainedglass.com . Business phone is: 6313532905.