Stained glass stories, part two
I recently had the pleasure of meeting and visiting with Eelco Stoffers and Roxana Popescu-Stoffers in their glass shop and studio, Gekleurd Glas. Both Eelco and Roxana are friendly, warm, and very easy to talk with. Eelco was eager to share his story and talk about his work. I’ve been by the shop a few times now, and I always leave feeling like we haven’t yet finished our conversation. It’s nice to have so much to talk about.
Eelco comes from a family of artists; his mother a visual artist, training first in painting and transitioning over time to textile work and tapestries, and his father, whose early work included machine fabrication and later shifted to stained glass. When his mother studied at Groningen’s Academia Minerva, her education in painting was quite comprehensive – it even included fire painting! Eelco’s father is something of a Renaissance man. He was a machine fabricator, and produced, among other things, spinning wheels for wool and etching presses for lithographs. He worked with the Academia Minerva and provided machines to students studying here in Groningen. He observed a need for students to have access to smaller, more portable machines, as many students needed to be able to produce work from home to support themselves. So, he made some.
Thirty plus years ago, when he was doing this work, he found that the academy was disposing of colored glass and lead that was no longer needed. He took the unwanted materials and taught himself how to work with them. Because stained glass work was painfully (and sadly) out of style here in the early 1980s, it was impossible to find any sort of training for it. Fortunately, Eelco’s family vacationed often in England and he saw training was available there. He took classes, bought a machine to cut glass, and voila!
When Eelco was younger, he wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the work his parents were doing. He found it too laborious and time-consuming, and rather preferred work that could be more speedily completed. Both his mother and father made Tiffany lamps and stained glass windows that often took many months to complete. During those young years, Eelco explored other artistic outlets. He dabbled in textile work and embroidery, using metal parts like nuts and bolts to embellish his stitching. Over time, however, Eelco developed a desire to work with glass, and by the time he was in his early 20s, he took up that work. For years on end, he worked furiously into the night, often waking in the morning slumped over the same spot where he’d been working the night before. His parents eventually sold their glass works business, and although Eelco wasn’t ready at the time to take over their business, he later started his own. In retrospect, he is glad he took some time away studying other things in school and pursuing other interests before he finally settled on what would be his life’s passion and work, working with glass.
The Gekleurd Glas studio on the Nieuwe Ebbingestraat in Groningen has been in business for 20 years. Eelco has done all the work himself, choosing not to hire employees to share the workload, and over time, the repetitive movements of his work have taken their toll on his wrists. Teaching workshops has been a great way to reduce the amount of wear and tear on his body. He finds it interesting to meet and work with all kinds of different people with whom he can share his craft. As he said, he “teaches everyone,” but working with glass is not necessarily for everyone. It occupies you totally and requires absolute concentration and dedication. At the same time, it’s relaxing. One has to be committed enough to the work to be willing to put forth the effort required to do it.
As with any business, there are always the droll but necessary administrative tasks to do. Eelco works hard to find the balance between responsibly managing a thriving business and making the time to do the work he truly enjoys. He told me that it’s important for his life to have meaning, and to do something that is meaningful and that stays. He doesn’t want to “make cookies in a cookie factory.” He invests a lot of time in the work he does, and the results of that work are durable and meant to last a long time. And, by the way, his work is really beautiful. He talked about how stained glass windows made during the Middle Ages were meant to last for a long, long time. I have the sense that Eelco feels connected to the very long history and tradition of work with colored glass, and that his adopting of the same or similar methods and materials used for hundreds of years gives him comfort and joy. His two young daughters spend time in the studio, and already have shown interest in the work. Eelco was beaming when speaking of passing the studio on to his girls.
He told me that when he looks at windows he’s made in his own house, he starts glowing inside.
Eelco and Roxana both work and offer lessons at Gekleud Glas, including:
~ glass bead making
~ glass fusing
~ glass in lead
~ copper foil technique/Tiffany
~ fire painting
~ commission/production and restoration of glass works
For those of you living in or near Groningen, I highly recommend you pop in the studio to see if you might be interested in following a course. Find more information on the studio website and visit their webshop for supplies and materials.
Many thanks to my new friends Eelco and Roxana (and their two beautiful girls) for generously spending time with me and sharing about their life and work. 🖤