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Hilbert College library hosts stained-glass exhibit

Megan McElf is a craftswoman. She’s also an artist. And a scientist.

And not necessarily in that order.

Seven pieces of her stained and leaded glass were unveiled Tuesday afternoon as part of the Arts in the Library display inside the McGrath Library at Hilbert College.

The most eye-catching piece is called “a la Peacock,” a gorgeous piece of leaded glass. It contains McElf’s signature technique as a craftswoman, casting her own pieces of glass from scratch, in a time-consuming process that required five kiln firings, ranging from 1,100 to 1,750 degrees Fahrenheit.

The piece consists of a round “rondel,” mostly filled with blues and greens, on a backdrop of leaded glass that has subtle lines formed from actual peacock feathers, with several decorative touches on the corners.

“You’re not supposed to see a peacock as a literal portrait,” said McElf, a third-generation glass craftswoman. “To me, it’s like elements of the peacock that are taken out, then examined and put together in a whole.”

But don’t look for any deep meaning in the piece.

“Sometimes when I make my own work, the only thing I want people to say is ‘Wow, that’s beautiful,’ ” she said inside the library before the unveiling. “And if that means I don’t qualify as a true artist because it doesn’t have meaning, that’s OK.”

Wil Prout, director of the Hamburg college’s McGrath Library, clearly was “wowed” by the piece.

“I see a great deal of work. I see a great deal of imagination, a great deal of creativity and a great deal of color,” he said.

“The way the light shines through it, you see the different patterns that emerge.”

Prout has featured such local art inside the college library each semester for the last five years.

“We want our students to see the works of Western New York artists,” Prout explained. “I think the students here sometimes are not aware of the amount of art and art galleries and the quality of it in Western New York.”

The exhibit, which is open to the public, features McElf’s seven pieces, plus three more from Rich Federowicz and Andrew Chambers Jr.

Federowicz, of Against the Grain Studio, is a self-described “woodist,” a combination woodworker/artist, while Chambers is an artist/blacksmith working out of Arc Iron Creations.

“We don’t think of ourselves as artists first, because our art is based on a craft, a centuries-old craft,” McElf said.

“Our art is based on technique more than anything. Our technique has to be precise. It has to be true to the craft.”

But there’s also a splash of science, of trial and error, especially in McElf’s work. Like a great chef or scientist, she has her McElf GlassWorks studio filled with piles of glasswork that didn’t meet her standards.

And she has lab books filled with precise measurements and techniques that she’s used in her problem-solving process.

“My husband jokes that when he walks into the studio, it’s not state-of-the-art,” she said. “It’s state-of-the-science.”


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