Stained Glass: Finding Beauty in Transparency and Opacity

A six-week introductory stained glass workshop led to a nearly 30-year venture for Ronna Rajaniemi.

“My first night, the first time I tried to break a piece of glass, I cut my finger so bad I had to go to the hospital,” she said. After that intro class, she moved up to the intermediate level. “I attended [that intermediate class] every Thursday night for the next eight years. I kept on keeping on.”

A former graphic designer at The Keene Sentinel, Rajaniemi opened Petaltail Studio in Richmond in 2007, continuing some graphic design work as well as creating stained glass.

“[Stained glass] is a nice little cottage industry,” she said.

Since starting with stained glass, Rajaniemi has created and sold many different pieces of all shapes, sizes and colors. They can be simpler or more elaborate. Among her creations have been a variety of snowflakes. “People just love them,” she said, noting that pieces such as snowflakes are an easy product to sell particularly at craft fairs around Christmastime.

In addition to delighting others with her creativity, she also knows how to revel in it for herself. Right now, she’s been working on “the two biggest panels I’ve ever done” for her living room. She started cutting the glass for them in July 2020; each has an abstract quality, she said, and now she’s about three weeks away from completing them. While these larger pieces can take months or more to create, other projects “could be done in a week if you wanted to. It all depends on the size and how intricate it’s going to be.”

Rajaniemi began making stained glass as a hobby — although her work and business have expanded beyond that — “at the height of the glass art movement in the 1990s.” What helped her to get started and continue were the classes she took, something she encourages people who are interested in this work to do. This not only provides the ins and outs of stained glass, it will but also familiarize people with the tools they’ll need, such as a glass grinder, pliers, soldering iron, marking pens and brushes.

The stained glass industry has changed over the years, according to Rajaniemi, with some suppliers falling by the wayside “in large part because of environmental restrictions on the production of glass, and the fact that less people seem to be doing [stained glass] now.” But that shouldn’t deter anyone. It’s still a great, fulfilling venture.

 “I enjoy the process of stained glass because there are so many skills to develop,” she said. “First, it’s the visual and the line work, then selecting colors and opacity. There’s the cutting aspect and the soldering. Soldering is probably the hardest to truly master. But once you do, it’s okay.”

Rajaniemi says that despite any challenges, making stained glass pieces is “just a relaxing thing to do. It’s just beautiful. It’s beautiful to see light come through it.”