Tustin artist deals in light and color

TUSTIN — Renee Tolgo saw the light 29 years ago when she took a comprehensive workshop in the ancient art of stained glass.

She learned it all, starting with how to select and safely use the correct hand or power tools. The creative instruction focused on how to draw pattens with both straight and curved lines, choose glass textures and colors, cut and grind glass, solder and frame the components and wash and polish the finished product.

Having discovered her passion, she dove right in, producing her first shimmering suncatchers, night-lights and picture frames on the kitchen counter in her Tustin home. She later moved to a basement workshop for cutting and grinding.

Over the years, she has honed and perfected her techniques and versatility, achieving a full range of small and large creations from simple geometric designs to sophisticated and intricate scenes. With up to 300 individual pieces of glass, her custom designs are impressive labors of patience and artistry.

Her most difficult subjects are birds, which is also her specialty.

She has captured many species of small and large birds in gleaming glass including hummingbirds, chickadees, cardinals, goldfinches and other Michigan songbirds, ducks, geese and pheasants. Tolgo, who is also a photographer, takes photos of birds to help in her designs.

“Because of the feathers, it’s hard to make birds look real,” she said. “The same is true for a lot of animals. For example, I made a tiger and it was difficult to do the stripes.

“My style is to try to make the birds or animals look realistic. I prefer to have them look lifelike, not stylized, and that makes for much more detail and many more pieces of glass.”

Her most ambitious piece is a 28-inch custom-designed octagonal window depicting a pair of wood ducks. Stained glass is the perfect decorative art to capture the showy male with his large crest and glittering green, black, purple and white plumage in glittering glass.

The window was commissioned as a gift and Tolgo and her husband delivered and installed the colorful surprise while the lucky recipient was away from the home. A project requiring more than 60 hours, hundreds of glass fragments and years of expertise to complete, the window is one of Tolgo’s major accomplishments.

Tolgo is a member and secretary of the Osceola League for Arts and Humanities in Evart where she exhibits and sells a wide variety of her art in the league studio and gift shop.

Examples of her work were also on display in Kettunen Center recently during the league annual Art Show which continues on through Oct. 26 at the league studio and features many talented artists from Osceola County.

Tolgo was creative early in life, learning as a child to sew and crochet which developed her eye for color and decorative detail. Her design inspiration is drawn from multiple sources including nature, vintage quilts and crafts, art books and travel.

An avid traveler who has visited nine countries, Tolgo has experienced superb stained glass in the great museums, cathedrals and other historic monuments of Europe. These masterpieces have influenced her art and she draws upon the rich heritage of the artisans of the past to create her contemporary contributions to the genre.

“I was particularly awed by the great stained glass in Rome, Florence and the English cathedrals,” she said. “I have always been attracted to glass and its shining qualities, how light interacts with it, like glass beads, and as an adult I was drawn to stained glass art and I love it.”

Tolgo also creates mosaic art and designs glass bead bracelets.

She teaches a class at the league in how to make peyote beaded bracelets. Peyote is a particular type of weaving used to stitch the bracelets. She also teaches mosaic classes.

What’s next for the busy artist?

She is taking on new challenges, looking forward to fresh directions in stained glass. There is an interest in creating family crests in the light and color of glass. This emerging niche stems from the popular study of family histories and genealogy. Another recent trend comes from a nostalgia for simpler times and has resulted in requests to have family heirloom quilt designs recreated in stained glass.

“Every time I create something, the greatest satisfaction comes from seeing it finally all come together and watching how it looks with the light coming through,” she said.

Tolgo is one of only a few stained-glass artists in Michigan. Drop by to see her luminous work, and the work of other area artists, at the league Art Show.

The Osceola League for Arts and Humanities, its studio and gift shop, are at 207 N. Main St., Evart. Regular studio hours and hours for the Art Show, which is open through Oct. 26, are Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 12 noon - 5 p.m and Saturday from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m.

For details about the league or the Art Show and information on how to purchase her art and commission custom pieces, contact Tolgo at (231) 388-5749 or email her at rtolgo@yahoo.com. The league also has a website at www.olahartstudioevart.com.