Originally published in Summer SENC Magazine, Adams Publishing Company
By Rebecca J. Whitman
Stained glass is nothing new to artist Kim S. Joy; she’s been creating in it since 1982. Kim found the beauty of making art in glass through a stained glass class in New Mexico, and she followed that experience with an apprenticeship there to really learn the business. By 2004, she became a full-time stained glass artist living in eastern Virginia, selling her work, and teaching classes. In addition to teaching classes out of her home studio, Kim taught stained glass to interested students in community centers such as Fort Belvoir Arts and Crafts Center, Arlington Adult Education, and Fairfax County Parks and Recreation.
Swirls of color and geometric shapes with a recognizable nod to Frank Lloyd Wright capture Kim’s personal style. Sometimes Kim allows the glass itself to speak to her. Like the Tiffany glass that was custom created to create drape within the glass itself, sometimes the glass pour is so beautiful that Kim frames it as is without any cutting. Other Kim S. Joy pieces capture your imagination–like the non-traditional mixed media of round blue and purple waves cut around a hanging fabric of woven fibers. “It’s not your grandma’s stained glass,” Kim remarks. Originality is important in all art forms including stained glass. “If you are going to just create not for sale pieces, there are plenty of pattern books, but once you start working in glass then you want to make it yours and unique instead of like everybody else’s work,” Kim said.
In 2018, Kim moved to North Carolina and opened Art Happens at 106 Tarboro Street in Wilson. Above the door to the store, there is a stained glass panel of a thistle. Kim designed the panel as a nod to her Scottish heritage, and it has served as the original logo design of her business. Guests to the studio are welcomed by the colorful pieces throughout the studio, the expansive work space, and a playfully exuberant pup, Fred.
While abstract art is her favorite, Kim recognizes the need to do other things. “What I like and what other people may like is not the same thing, so you have to do a little bit of everything,” she says. To meet that diversity, Kim carries everything from stained glass jewelry to lamps, boxes, and simple panels.
More than sold pieces, Kim finds that a lot of her business is actually in teaching classes and selling supplies. “A supply store that everyone used in Raleigh closed,” Kim said, “so many of those customers found me to buy their supplies from.” Kim carries all the necessary basic tools, solder, and flux as well as an impressive glass collection. Her glass collection includes vintage makers that no longer exist as well as known brands like Spectrum, Oceanside, Bullseye, and Youghiogheny. Imported glasses like Verrerie de St. Just from France are also in her collection. Stained glass artists can buy sheets of glass for $5-95 a sheet, or they can buy scraps by the pound for $3 a pound.
Though she stays busy and could drive sales for supply in our area, that is not Kim’s passion. “I consider myself a teacher more than a salesperson,” Kim said. “I like creating stained glass and working with people on commissioned pieces. A lot of repairs come in here, and I love that too because it’s like trying to fix a puzzle without taking the whole thing apart.” There are limitations to the types of projects that Kim can take on. Church windows, for example, are not something that she will take on restoring.
Many people interested in stained glass can get surprised by the cost involved in just having the right equipment. “If you had to buy all new equipment, it would be over $400 in tools and you don’t even know if you’re going to like doing stained glass or any good at it really,” Kim says. Kim suggests people interested in stained glass sign up for a class first. With classes at Art Happens, the tools are provided on loan as part of the cost of the class itself, and students have the benefit of an experienced artist helping them avoid making mistakes that can ruin their projects.
In Art Happens classes, students only buy the glass and sundries (copper foil, solder, etc.) used in their specific project. “We start out with a 12×16 panel with 14 different patterns to choose from..but you go home at the end of it all with a finished product at the end of the class,” Kim explains. “It just makes it a lot easier if everybody is on the same plan in the class…and it is less stressful for everyone. If this is the only piece they will ever make, we want to make it worthwhile.” The stained glass panel class is a seven week long course that meets once a week for 2.5 hours each session. Other classes include nightshades, lamps, boxes, jewelry, yard art, kaleidoscopes, and pet memorials. “It’s just things that people have asked for,” Kim says, explaining the diverse mix of classes.
Following COVID, people spent a lot more time at home and began looking for something to do with their down time. Kim believes that this led to an across the board interest in the arts. “Classes are pretty full around here, not just in stained glass,” Kim said. “The Arts Council here has sold out classes as well. Doing any form of handiwork is therapeutic. It gets you out of the stress you had that day and gives you the chance to explore your own creativity.”
After 20 years of growing in skill and mastery of her craft, Kim has a lot of wisdom to pass on to future glass artists. “Stay true to yourself. When you think that stained glass isn’t alive or worthwhile doing, keep doing it. There were times, over my life, when the market died out, but I kept making stained glass. I can’t imagine my life not doing this. Think about your legacy and how you are going to be remembered. I don’t think I will be remembered for all the pieces I sold at craft fairs. I think I will be remembered more for the students that I taught, and that’s fine with me. I’d rather share it than have it be lost.”
For more information about the artist, check out her website at: https://www.kimsjoy.com/#/. For information about classes or to visit the studio, check out the Art Happens page at: https://www.kimsjoy.com/art_happens_on_tarboro.html#/