Milton resident volunteers time as stained glass teacher at The Gathering Place

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Andrea Behling
Saturday, June 28, 2014

MILTON—As Caroline Britton kept a watchful eye over a student's stained glass project, her 13-year-old grandson grabbed a soldering iron from the back room.

He was fetching it for a student waiting to solder the blue and white pieces of her hanging star project—a gift for her daughter-in-law.

Zach Britton has become his grandma's helping hand at the stained glass class she teaches at The Gathering Place, 715 Campus St., Milton. He's also taken up the hobby himself, currently working on a 21-piece design.

Work on his own project during class is put on hold when another student needs something from the back room, more water in the grinder or help with a tool.

“He's a great helper. He's a nice boy,” student Marjorie Beutin said.

Zach, an eighth-grader at Evansville Middle School, took up the hobby after Britton taught him and his cousin about a year and a half ago.

He's completed several pieces, including a lighthouse design for his mom and a stepping stone project.

“It's challenging but not enough that you don't want to do it anymore,” he said.

The challenge comes with the precise cuts needed to fit the pieces, said Britton, a Milton resident. If they don't align, it's back to square one.

“Glass is not forgiving. It either works, or it doesn't,” Britton said.

Britton has been voluntarily teaching the class for a year and a half, offered twice a month at The Gathering Place. She has worked with the medium for about 30 years.

Her late husband got her started after his out-of-the-blue request to learn the art.

He dragged her to a beginner's class offered through Blackhawk Technical College.

“I remember saying, 'I'm not interested. I don't want to do this. Just let me go back home,” she said.

After the first project, the hobby stuck.

Now hand-made stained glass disks hang from the bay window at her house, casting colored light into the front room. They are lovely reminders of a hobby that started with her husband.

The craft didn't stick for him, but he began buying his wife nicer, fancier tools so she could continue.

Tools are key in stained glass art, and it makes for a not-so-cheap hobby, Britton said.

Crafters need wax paper, goggles, towels, brushes, specialty scissors, glasscutters, glass sheets, a grinder, solder and a soldering iron.

You'll have to invest about $200 to do anything on your own, Britton said.

That's why the class at The Gathering Place is good for beginners, she said.

The Gathering Place offers all the necessary tools, some of which belong to Britton. It costs $15 per project to use the materials.

“At least people can come here and have the tools and figure out whether they like it or not,” Britton said.

The tools have gotten better and much more expensive since Britton started 30 years ago. Glass sheets range from $6 to $20.

Solder, which is melted by a soldering iron and used to fuse metal bands that hold the glass, was $4 per pound when she started. Today, it's closer to $20, Britton said.

She used to haul her supplies between home and The Gathering Place. After back surgery, it made more sense to leave her supplies at the center.

She still needs help carrying the supplies into the activity room, which is a job Zach has fulfilled with enthusiasm.

He loves learning about the tools and making bigger, more intricate patterns, Britton said.

“If you stick at it long enough, you can get really good at it and make a whole bunch of different things,” Zach said.

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