For Marietta Burke, the true test of her artistry comes from the sun. As the artist and owner of Belle le Verre Stained Glass in Newton — that’s “beautiful glass” in French — Burke likes to double-check her work in the sunny front windows of her downtown studio.
“When I complete a piece, I put it in front of these windows out here and see the light come through,” Burke says. “And sometimes I just stand back because it looks so wonderful.”
Burke creates stunning suncatchers and custom windows, night-lights and Tiffany-style lamps. And although making stained glass can certainly be tricky — what she calls a “roll of the dice” requiring precise amounts of pressure and precision with a dash of delicacy — Burke lives for that moment when it all comes together.
Our State sat down with Burke to learn more about her process at Belle le Verre and the one-of-a-kind pieces she creates.
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OS: How did you get your start working with stained glass?
Burke: I started off crafting things, making things. Paper dolls, anything with hot glue, sequins — whatever I could get. And then when I was in high school, I ordered these VHS tapes from Vicki Payne, you know, “how to make stained glass.” I ordered the tools through a little catalog and started making it in my parents’ basement.
OS: How were you able to master the skills you needed?
Burke: Stained glass is not easy; it takes a lot of trial and error. It’s something I had to work on. So I went off to college and majored in architecture, and later, I took lessons from a guy who was a retired engineer. I went and took classes for several weeks and really found out what I was doing wrong. At the time, I was only making tiny suncatchers and things like that. But I found out how to put it together, how to support the pieces, how to make something larger, how to do exterior windows for a house.
OS: What are some of the challenges you face working with stained glass?
Burke: It can be very nerve-racking, especially when you have a very expensive piece of glass and you want a swirl here or this part of the color in there. And then, if you break it, you can’t use it. You have to do it again. Cutting glass is very precise and you have to be very accurate, and the pressure that you put with the hand cutter has to be just right. It can be frustrating, but it can be awesome when it comes out perfect.
OS: What’s going through your mind when you’re creating a piece?
Burke: When I’m working with the piece, I’m always thinking, OK, what’s the end goal? What’s it going to look like? Am I picking out the right choices for glass? How is this going to look together? Each piece is different, so it really depends on how complex the design is, it depends on how much detail is put in it.
OS: What kinds of pieces do you like to create?
Burke: I love intricate pieces and detail. It’s just more fun to make something that’s more detailed. And I would like to make more custom pieces and lamps. That’s really something that I enjoy.
OS: What is the most rewarding part of working with this medium?
Burke: I get to do what I love. What’s cool is just creating the pieces, the artistic process, working with the glass. Every piece that I turn out has a little piece of me in it. It always has a little bit of blood, sweat, and tears in each one. The way the light comes through is just magic. It is. It’s a way for me to put my own beauty into the world and share that with others.
Belle le Verre
22 North Main Avenue
Newton, NC 28658