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A journal of social practice & professional engagement for the Antioch community

Manipulating Light: Wentzel ’25 as a Stained Glass Apprentice

My second co-op job is nothing like my first, and I am very grateful for that. Not because my first co-op was a terrible experience, I enjoyed it very much and learned a lot but I am happy to have a change of scenery with different people and tasks. I am currently working in my hometown of Cape Town, South Africa where I have been apprenticed to my grandfather in order to learn the copper-foil stained glass trade. While learning stained glass craftsmanship is a massive part of my co-op this term it is not the main goal, my main goal is to explore stained glass crafting as a possible career. Each co-op experience I have had so far has helped me to narrow down what I do and do not want to do with my professional life, from my first co-op I learnt that working in an office is not where I want to be for the next fifty odd years of my life, and now this co-op is giving me an insight into working for myself in practical workshop environment.

Most days my grandfather and I wake up at around 7:30 in the morning, get dressed, have a light breakfast and then go out to set up the workspace and start working at 9 a.m. sharp. Everyday we work in segments of the three hours with two hour breaks in between but depending on the day this is subject to change, now why do we work such fragmented hours you might be asking, “Can stained glass work really be so physically demanding to necessitate multiple two hour breaks?”. Well the reason we keep such odd working hours is because here in South Africa our electricity infrastructure has been over the years weakened and undermined by corruption, thievery and incompetence and as a result of this we have rolling blackouts across the country almost everyday called load shedding. Most public holidays and some Sundays are exempt from load shedding. At the beginning of my co-op we would work on pieces together but now I work and he supervises, we work on medium size suncatchers about the size of an A4 page and smaller pieces that are meant either for sale like coasters and candleholders. The ultimate goal of this co-op is to sell some of my stained glass work pieces but I have been learning so much that even if I do not sell any pieces I will not be devastated, disappointed yes, but I have learnt a new skill and art form that I already know is going to impact my life much more than just these few months. My grandfather’s mission statement for this co-op could be summarised as, “To teach a total novice the art and labour which hand-in-hand make up stained glass crafting, without killing the novice.”

 This craft serves the community the same way that most art does, as both an object of beautification and an opportunity to raise funds. Stained glass in public spaces such as offices, courthouses, libraries etc. are a great way to both beautify and add light to a space. For example my grandfather is in the process of making a stained glass Jesus for the oncology ward of the hospital that treated him for prostate cancer. You can also use stained glass to benefit the community through fundraising, glass pieces can be auctioned or sold at community fundraisers for projects or causes important to the community.

I cannot tell you exactly how this co-op fits into my educational goals because I cannot tell you exactly what my educational goals are at this moment in time, but stained glass working is an incredibly precise job that requires problem solving skills and the ability to approach an issue from multiple angles. Working with stained glass is a lot like figuring out a puzzle, a puzzle where once you have placed a piece down you cannot pick it up and I know that this experience will help me to find my ultimate educational goal.

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