Pieces of stained glass

Wanda Dobbs is one of the funnest most energetic people you’ll ever meet. I’m not just saying that, because she’s my aunt. She’s been a nurse providing home care for patients, and she handles it with the same passion and optimism that she has for stained glass, drawing and most recently, photography. If you never realized the creativity that nurses use day in and day out, then Wanda can tell you all about it. Enjoy part one of my interview with Wanda.

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you got to where you are today.

I grew up in the country, and I guess my grandmother had a lot to do with my upbringing. She had a really positive outlook on life. It didn’t matter how little she had, she would just make something good out of it. That always came across as an inspiration to me all through my life. She was the most important person in my life. All the struggles that she went through with her kids, growing up and just a lot of different things going on her life, she just always managed through her faith to project a positive image. She always kept a beautiful home. She tried to inspire with her cooking, her house work and her little decorating skills even though she didn’t have much. She always had fresh flowers on the table. Her house was always just picture perfect. Through that I always envisioned as a kind of a storybook sort of a life. I guess she was kind of a dreamer, so I’ve always been kind of like a dreamer too.

My journey, I guess has kind of been going in different directions. I never really began thinking I was going to become a nurse. Even though my other grandmother had a brain aneurysm when she was probably in her early fifties, was paralyzed on her left side and wound up living with us for I guess probably 10 years or so. We all took turns taking care of her, and I guess I learned a lot of nursing skills or on the job training taking care of her.

I had gone to college a couple of years, and then wound up getting married. Then got on at a drug-store as a pharmacy tech with job training. And then got on with the VA hospital as a pharmacy tech. It just kind of fell into my lap, I found out that I could go back to school and get my degree in nursing, and they would pay tuition reimbursement if I wanted to get a nursing degree. So, that’s how I wound up going into nursing. I was around nurses a lot at the hospital and saw what they were capable of. I respected their profession a lot. I went back to school, got my degree, and wound up getting a scholarship through the VA. So, that’s how I became a nurse. I never had this dying desire to become a nurse. It all just fell into place. I felt that that was my destiny, because I wound up getting the scholarship, and it paid for all of my tuition. I did pretty well in school.

How has creativity influenced your personal interests?

As far as my creativity goes in my stained glass and stuff — I loved to draw when I was in high school and grammar school. I loved people. I loved drawing people’s faces and that sort of thing, more so than I did landscapes. I was just intrigued with drawing the human figure. The reason I even got interested in taking a class in stained glass was because I’ve always loved stained glass windows in churches. I wanted to do the upper cabinets in my kitchen in stained glass. I said I maybe would take a class in it. So, I did, just the basic class. They used all of these basic boring patterns that looked like coloring book patterns. I told my husband, “If we ever got to where we were going to do any serious stained glass, I think I would like to draw my own patterns. I think I could do a better job at that. I could probably look at a picture and draw a pattern like a bird, flower or maybe even something more detailed as we went along.” We started by doing some local birds. He started taking them around to the local art shops, and a couple of them said that they wanted to put them in their shops and show them.

Has that turned into a commercial hobby for you?

We tried that for a while, and then we tried some of the local art shows where you sit around and hang your goods out there. People don’t respect the amount of time involved as you well know. (laughs) We would sit there for Saturday and Sunday, and we would just not sell one piece. When you have a price tag of $250 on an 11 x 14 piece they just kind of frowned at that. They have no idea, especially when it’s something that I drew from the beginning, by the time you draw, make a pattern from it, and put it to glass, polish it and frame it, everything that you have to do to it. The hours involved, they have no idea, not counting how much it costs to buy glass itself. We got bored. It takes too much time and effort to sit around with these festivals and do all this. We would hang a few in some of the art shops, arts & crafts stores and if they sold fine. If they didn’t, so what. We didn’t kill ourselves making those things.

Before hurricane Katrina came along, we had a pretty good business going. We would contract ourselves out making windows in homes. A lot of people were hiring us to do transom windows in homes, over front doors, or that sort of thing like going into a study or between a dining room and a kitchen. We did pretty well, and then the hurricane hit and it’s just slowly, slowly coming back. We’ve gotten a few calls here and there, but nothing like what we were getting before. Then again, Richard has gone back to work fulltime, so we don’t have the time to put in anyway.

It’s something that we love to do, but we don’t make a whole lot of money doing it even with those windows. We charge a fair price, but really the time and effort involved in it, it’s just something that we really love doing. It’s more of a hobby. It’s more of a supplemental income than something that we could actually quit work and say, “Yeah, we’re going to do this to make a living off of.” (laughs) I love creating it, and I love drawing it.

Do the limits of the medium help or hinder your creativity?

Sometimes I feel like it does limit me some ways. I used to cut it all out in the beginning, and do it the old timey way, by hand. But since I am a nurse, and I am around all of the bodily fluids and what have you, I used to cut my hands to pieces doing it. Richard, my husband, actually builds them for me. So he cuts it all out now, and puts it all together for me. A lot of the old timey, true stained glass people poo poo that. (laughs) That’s not true stained glass if you don’t do it all by hand.

We build to make it strong and structurally sound. He will go behind me, because he’s a craftsman. He can solder a lot better than I can. He’ll go behind my drawing, and he’ll say, “Oh, you’re gonna have to modify that, because the points are too sharp there. Or you’re going to have to do something with that angle, because it’s gonna break there when I go to build it.” I’ll try to argue with him, (laughs) and we’ll get into a huge fight. I’ll say, “But you’re going to totally ruin what I’m trying to say here.”

I drew a picture of George Ohr, because we went to the George Ohr festival in Biloxi one time and we entered in the judged and juried section. He didn’t realize I could draw people.

You know who George Ohr is right? The potter, the mad potter in Biloxi. He’s a real goofy looking character. He’s got this wild mustache and crazy hair. They have these faces of him with his hair and mustache going all in one. I said, “I’m going to draw a picture and do him in stained glass to have that as our picture in the judge and jury section.”

He said, “You can’t draw a person. You can’t do a person in stained glass.”

I said, “Don’t tell me I can’t do something.”

I wound up doing that picture of him in stained glass. It turned out really cool. It’s just so hard to do a face, and to have it look just like the person. Not have him come behind me and say, “It can’t be done that way. You’re going to have to change it.” You can’t alter something like that, and have it look just right.

Be sure to read part 2 of my interview with Wanda, and don’t forget to check out the other great Untapped Creativity interviews with Jeni Herberger, Nicole Dobbs, Elizabeth Lalli-Reese, and Lynda Campbell.

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