When Dee Strozdas polishes one of her stained glass pieces and holds it to the light, she can easily understand what attracts so many people to her finished work. It's the same thing that attracts her as an artist.
“It's that light and sparkle,” she says.
But for Strozdas, it's more than simply the colors and textures that has drawn her toward creating stained glass for nearly 40 years. It is also the science and engineering behind it. Where should the seams come together? Is it reinforced in the right place? Is it strong enough?
“I like the challenge of figuring out how I can stretch it, how I can push it,” she says.
Strozdas, an art teacher for 35 years in the Tecumseh, Springfield City and Northwestern school districts, retired in 2014. Now she creates stained glass artwork and lampwork beads from her studio within Hatch Artist Studios, 105 N. Center St. The studio, Dee's Glass Designs, is open to the public by appointment and during First Fridays, held every month from 5 to 9 p.m.
Strozdas has long been fascinated by the malleability of metal and glass, and 38 years ago took an introductory stained glass course offered at the Springfield Museum of Art. Since then, she has been self-taught, finding other like-minded artists and sharing knowledge.
Strozdas also creates lampwork beads, using a torch to melt glass into a variety of designs and then adding accents like sterling silver beads and Swarovski crystals to create original pieces of jewelry.
Each bead is a work of art alone, even before it becomes a part of a necklace, bracelet or pair of earrings. A single bead takes Strozdas 10 to 20 minutes to create, depending on the design.
Stained glass, too, takes time. An average 12-by-18-inch piece takes at least 30 hours to make, starting with the creation of the design. If the piece is more complicated – curves, shadows, small pieces – it can take much longer.
“Some people think the tiny pieces are easier,” she says, but that's not true. “They're more labor intensive.”
Strozdas has created a wide range of stained glass art, including suncatchers, ornaments, jewelry boxes, small sculptures, awards and even logos for local businesses. Lately Strozdas has become interested in reusing unique wine and liquor bottles, turning them into lamp bases and then creating matching lampshades.
Her pieces also come in all sizes – one of her first was a large 5-by-3-foot panel for her husband's office.
Strozdas's art can be seen on her website, Facebook and Instagram pages.
In the past, Strozdas mostly created and sold whatever struck her fancy. In the last couple of years, however, she has gotten an increasing number of commissions, which now make up about half of her projects.
“It is so much fun to talk to people when they have an idea in their head,” she says.
When Strozdas receives a commission, she often meets with clients several times, reviewing sketches and colors and showing samples of glass so they can see for themselves how the light shines through them.
“You want to get it right for them, so it's their feel, not my feel,” says Strozdas, who has lived in Clark County since she got married 38 years ago.
Strozdas grew up near Cedarville, on a farm that has been in her family for several generations and is currently farmed by her younger brother. She and her husband, Jerry Strozdas, a retired attorney, have two grown children, Maggie and Daniel.
Growing up, Strozdas says she was lucky to have two parents who recognized her talent and encouraged her to be an artist.
Even so, she is used to surprising others. Strozdas was the mom who could resolder and fix an electronic component for her young son. Even today, she sees looks of astonishment when she explains to others what she does, and they realize her 5-foot-1-inch frame can physically handle the process.
She gets a couple of common questions from visitors to her studio. Some ask if she paints the glass. (She doesn't.) Many others simply want to know how she does it. She explains that she uses both leaded and copper foil methods, shows them her tools and often ends with a single line.
“I'm a woman who plays with sharp things and fire,” she tells them, “and I'm good with that.”