The sunlight streams through the large windows of a modest studio showroom. Brilliant colors gleam in every direction and all imaginable tones. Like a room full of gems, emerald and ruby, tranquil blues, and shades of white. An unimaginable spectrum. I peek around carefully with starry eyes. I happened upon this place on a whim. I was headed to do something I didn’t care much to do, so when I saw the arrow sign that directed toward a glass blowing demonstration, I let fate take the wheel. I entered the world of Dan and Jill Burstein.
The artists behind New Hope Stained (and now blown) Glass are an unassuming married couple of middle age. Friendly, mild-mannered, and welcoming. They speak to each other the way they speak to guests, patiently and politely. The pair work from their home-based studio, a stone’s throw from the famed Rice’s Market and mere paces from the well-travelled Solebury Orchard.
“We’ve had the studio open since about May,” Dan explains. It is an impressive and simple space, neatly organized, with a large area where he and his glass blowing partner, Jason Curtis, work. Demonstrations happen regularly, and they will be adding a Make Your Own workshop for people interested in learning the art. The outbuilding is also home to their shop, but another, much smaller workshop hides at the rear of their house – just a few yards away. This is where the bulk of their business resides and where our official tour began.
Jill moves around the edges of the room as Dan is leaned over a table at the center, soldering the seams of a tall stained-glass window. “This is a custom piece,” she says. Keeping my hands clear of Dan’s path and the trails of hot, liquid metal, I run my fingers along the textured glass panels. The colors and patterns are arranged to highlight a rondel that the client found and wanted featured, but she needed two windows so Dan made her a second rondel to match. Jill, however, does the design work.
Explaining the process, Jill reaches into a large cabinet behind me and pulls out a rolled up sheet of paper. They are sketches of stained-glass windows, blueprints – if you will. They are called “cartoons.” They map the size, location, and color of every pane in a single design.
“Someday I really should grow up and get a computer program,” she laughs, “and it would put the colors in… but this is how they always did it…” with cartoons. She appreciates the original ways, realizing that color doesn’t always translates well in digital forms. “The hardest part is the color because there are so many choices of color and texture.”
Jill takes her time pulling out pieces of glass from deep slots in the shelving. She is clearly as delighted by their beauty as anyone would be seeing them for the first time. Glass, as it turns out, is sold like fabric. There are a few large-scale suppliers who sell to glass stores. It comes in different thicknesses, qualities, patterns, and colors, and is ordered by measurement. “My problem is there are so many combinations,” Jill says. “I always want to change something” in the design.
“The selection is endless,” Dan agrees, barely looking up from his work. When he is finished, he steps out to wash up. Jill continues to pull from their extensive collection of stock and samples. Not every piece is the same on both sides. Some glass is more opaque, and some less. “When you buy stained glass, it is a changing piece of art. At night, it looks one way. In the day, it looks another way. What is the back going to look like? The color is really complicated. Even if you had a computer, you can’t duplicate the colors.”
Dan returns and stands up the window he was working on. He explains how daylight coming in, artificial light indoors at night, and even moonlight create different effects. He talks about iridized glass, which appears clear but reflects dynamic color when different light hits it at different angles. “We talk to customers about southern exposure, northern exposure,” he says. “It’s a changing work of art.”
Jill bursts out laughing, “I just said the same thing!”
After 36 years of marriage, Dan and Jill share many of the same words. They also share their business and their love for glass. They pull their clients into that love, encouraging them to come and see, touch, and take in the inventory before deciding on their panels. They welcome interior designers and whomever else may be involved in a project. Whether it is a cabinet door, a free hanging pane, or an affixed window in a home or business, “we try to make it an experience that you will remember,” Jill says, “so that you feel a part of the process.”
That process, of making stained glass for clients, is the bulk of their almost 20 year old business which grew from little more than a simple interest in a new hobby and a desire for “something we could do together.” Their marriage has been much like their windows, a changing work of art.
Originally from West Chester, New York, the couple started dating in high school. Dan went off to Ohio State University at Wooster to study Horse Management. A year later, Jill graduated and headed for Washington University in St. Louis, where she got a bachelor’s in fine arts. They maintained their relationship, despite the distance, and moved to Vermont when Jill completed her degree so that Dan could take a job on a horse farm. Jill found jobs that allowed her to dabble in art but had other priorities.
“I know what it takes to be an artist. You have to have unbelievable motivation and drive, and that’s your all. I was more interest in having a family,” she says. The couple have two adult daughters. One family focused and pregnant with their first grandchild. The other has a degree is curatorial studies and works for The Kitchen, an art collaborative in Chelsea, NYC. Jill was 27 years old when they had their eldest.
A move to New Jersey allowed Jill to find more related employment but she focused mainly on raising their daughters who came just a couple years apart. They relocated again in 2000 when Dan took a job on a busy horse farm in Newtown. It was then that he decided to sign up for a glass blowing class at Bucks County Community College. When he arrived at his turn in the line, the class was full.
“This was back when you actually had to go to sign up for a class,” Jill chuckles.
The representative suggested he take a stained-glass class instead, while he waited for an opening in glass blowing the following semester. Dan went ahead with it and brought his knowledge home. Jill applied her background in art to the design work, and Dan did the cutting and placing. Nine years later, after doing glass “in the basement for fun” and giving pieces to everyone they knew, the pair followed the repeated suggestion to sell their work. They built a website, and off it went. Their first project was a huge mural window in a temple, but today their work consists of countless pieces both custom and stock items they sell in galleries and online.
In the meantime, Dan was developing his glass blowing skills. He took classes at the community college but expanded his education with classes at the Corning Museum of Glass, where he studied under some of the world’s greatest artists. “One of the things that I do that is very unique,” Dan says, “is murrine. My goal is to get my murrine into artist level galleries.”
Murrine is a cane of glass that has colored patterns deep within it. The colors are revealed when the glass is cut into cross sections. Dan has mastered laying these vibrant pieces of glass into his work to achieve the most striking effects. The expansion of his skill and the growth of the business represents, if you will, their changing work of art.
“There aren’t many glass blowing studios around where you can get time,” Dan explains, and in order to get time at the community college, one must be registered for a class. Dan has been taking the same advanced glass blowing class at the college over and over for years. Now, with his own studio space, he can work whenever he wants, just a few steps from the house.
“So much of glass is so hot,” Jill says, leaning back a little as she slides shut the doors of the reheating chamber.
“You can’t believe how much heat is coming out, but you get used to it,” Dan adds. He moves around the space blowing and rolling and shaping the glowing glass bubble at the end of a long rod and recalls how his instructors would make them stand near the furnaces just to get acclimated.
How hot is it? 2,000 degrees. The studio goes through about 700 gallons of propane a month. Dan laughs, “It’s not a cheap sport.”
“But it grabs you,” Jill follows. “Once it’s got you under its spell then you’ll do anything for it.”
A stroll through the studio shop validates this. The work is breathtaking. Colors sliding through smooth glass look like melting kaleidoscopes paused and held captive. Dan’s work with murrine offers dramatic effects in a variety of pieces from the simple to the stunning. Equally as beautiful, his partner’s collection includes gaze-worthy art for the shelf or everyday use. Worked through the space, Jill’s designs filter the light and catch the eye. Ornaments, suncatchers, figurines, decorative pieces, beverage glasses, and more, all in exquisite color, present visitors with a selection guaranteed to captivate.
“I’m designing my dream house,” I say as we flip through a photo book of residential installations they keep in the shop. We chat for another few minutes after Kristina makes her exit, her eyes and camera loaded with imagery, eager to edit. It’s a hard place to leave. As Dan said of the glass itself, the selection is endless. The Burstein’s themselves, though, are equally as charming as their space. From high school to horses to stained-glass to this wonderland… Their journey, as life should be, is a changing work of art.