Winona Company Makes Glass Into Art

Winona isn't the largest town in Minnesota, but it has a big reputation as the stained glass capital of the United States.

Winona is the home of no less than six stained glass companies, including the largest such firm in the nation -- the Willet Hauser Architectural Glass Studio.

Willet Hauser's artisans have created or restored stained glass windows for churches and public spaces across the country, from the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. to the New York City subway system.

The whine of a grinder mixes with the staccato notes of a hammer, chipping away fragments from thick chunks of glass.

"You gotta have the angles right," says Steve Giebel, one of the 70 or so artists at the Willet Hauser company. He's here, at the Winona studios. There's another facility in Philadelphia.

Giebel looks like he's working on a huge, multi-colored jigsaw puzzle -- taking slabs of glass, cutting them into various sizes, then paring away the edges with his special hammer to make sure they fit into the design.

The glass pieces have angles cut into them, much like a jewel would, which catches the light. Thick, black epoxy will be poured over the glass pieces to hold them together in a mosaic.

Giebel is working on a table-sized segment of a glass panel that'll soon be a part of the daily commute of many New Yorkers. The work of art will be installed in one of the many New York transit stations that are being remodeled.

Jim Hauser and his company has been playing a key part in those renovations.

"I think we've done 26 or 27 projects so far," says Hauser. "We've got four or five stations in the studio right now, and we're negotiating for a sixth one."

The task for the Willet Hauser glass artists? Taking the works of painters and illustrators selected for the "Arts for Transit" program, and transforming them into glass. at first, it wasn't an easy job.

"We were getting designs from people who had never done faceted glass. I'd start tearing my hair out and say, 'We can't do that in faceted glass, it is too limiting,'" Hauser says. "We had to spend so much time educating people as to the way it would go, but, we found out that there was a synergy, we learned from each other."

One of the New York artists visiting the Winona studios is Takayo Noda. She illustrates children's books.

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