‘It is magic.’ Killingworth artist opens stained glass studio in Branford and keeps ancient art alive

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BRANFORD — On the wall of an unassuming pocketed studio in Branford’s Hilltop Orchards building, a stained glass window shows a parrot perched on a branch, poking its head over another’s shoulder. An ethereal light shines through its vibrant yellow, blue and red feathers.

“I had the idea of ​​a picture of a parrot in a children’s coloring book and created a three-dimensional light box around it,” said Francis Barkyoumb, 68, as he stood amidst the bustling clutter of the Glass Dance Studio workspace on a recent afternoon.

Earlier this month, the Killingworth resident opened Glass Dance Studio, a stained glass and fused glass studio which will offer courses in stained glass and fused glass making, as well as open studios for students.

To hear Barkyoumb say it, stained glass parrots – and Glass Dance Studio, for that matter – might not have existed if not for the financial crisis of 2008.

In February 2009, Hartford Direct, a Berlin-based marketing services company founded by Barkyoumb and his brother-in-law in 1988, was forced to shut down its 250,000 square foot production facility.

“We were part of the correction,” he said.

Shortly after, his wife mentioned that an artist had left colored glass in the basement of the building where she worked. He put it in his cabin. “I thought I’d do something about it,” he says.

Barkyoumb has always dabbled in art. “Sculpting, painting, drawing, etc.,” he said.

Then he saw an advertisement for an adult education course in stained glass. He signed up. Nobody else did. They canceled the class.

Barkyoumb got the name of the artist teaching the class. It was Vinnie Yannone from the Vinnie Vijon studio in Old Saybrook.

“He offered me three classes for the same $85,” he said.

Three lessons later, Barkyoumb had fallen in love. With glass.

“It’s the way it dances, the way the light passes, how it changes depending on the time of day, the weather, the seasons, and each time it changes it tells a new story,” said he declared.

He pointed to a stained glass rendering of a sailboat in his studio’s front window, the low East Main Street afternoon sun filtering softly above his sails. “It is magic.”

After running his own consulting firm, Barkyoumb accepted a position as a senior account manager for the US Postal Service in 2013. mentioned.

Soon he was winning awards for his work at art shows and selling pieces.

“It was all positive reinforcement for me as an artist,” he said. “I was never there for the money. I was in it because I loved it.

He gestured to a pink plate hanging on the wall. “It’s a mouth-blown plate I found at a flea market,” he said. “I incorporated it into a stained glass window. I find many things at flea markets and tag sales that I reuse in my three-dimensional art.

A stained glass koi fish sat on a work table. “This is from a photo I saw of a tattoo on the back of a girl’s shoulder on the internet,” he said. “I find inspiration everywhere.”

A little over a year ago, Barkyoumb left his post at the Post Office. By chance, he met Jayne Crowley, renowned in the region for her handcrafted restoration and manufacture of stained glass.

“He’s a living legend,” he said. “She’s been making glass at Branford for 50 years, and we just connected on the history, life and future of stained glass.”

As JC Art Glassworks, Crowley occupied the studio space in the Hilltop Orchards building.

“Her vision was to make the studio work, so we made a deal that I would work with her and then take over the studio,” he said.

For the past few months, he and Crowley have been working on restoring the windows of St. Mary’s Church in Clinton. They also made six windows for Stony Creek Church.

Crowley, who continues to produce pieces from his home studio, said most people doing restoration work are “getting old”.

“We need young people coming in,” she said. “Otherwise, churches will be forced to go to the largest out-of-state stained glass studios, which can be very expensive.”

That said, stained glass isn’t necessarily an endangered art, according to Barkyoumb.

“There has been a resurgence, and it’s mainly because of the pandemic,” he said. “People were at home looking for things to do, so at least for the amateur, it really took off.”

That’s where his courses come in. “These people need outlets to keep learning, they need outlets for support, and the big challenge along the coastline is that there’s really no place to learn,” he said.

His plan is to offer two-day weekend courses and a seven-week series of three-hour evening courses for beginners. There will also be guest instructors and studios open twice a month for students to practice with tools under his supervision.

“I love teaching,” he said. “I have taught my entire career in a business environment.”

With stained glass, “how people are taught really matters,” he said. “That’s why my beginner classes are aimed at building confidence in the basics, and then the open studios are aimed at encouraging craft development.”

His mission, he says: “to make this workshop an island of peace, a place to come and keep everything outside, to learn, to grow in art, because glass is infinite.”

Glass Dance Studio is located at 616A East Main St. (Route 1) in the Hilltop Orchards Building in Branford. For more information on classes and other offerings, visit glassdancestudio.com, email [email protected], or call 860-614-4816.

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