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Del Paulson of Westcliffe: A Creator in Glass

Article by Lea Lahtinen

Local artists – August 1996 – Colorado Central Magazine

Legend has it that glass was first discovered on an otherwise unlucky Mediterranean voyage of antiquity. The ship wrecked and the travelers swam to shore amid the flotsam. They built a fire on the beach, and some of the fuel included crates from the cargo — crates that included potash. Heat potash and sand together, and you get glass.

Del Paulson told me this story, and I tend to believe him, because glass is his life.

Paulson, a Westcliffe artist who uses glass as his medium, began working with glass while employed at a greenhouse, and now creates stained glass in both traditional and modern designs.

The main appeal is that glass has “all the properties of a solid as well as of a liquid.” It allows him to incorporate many other elements — sculpture, design, color — into his work.

His biggest challenge, he says, is taking his customers’ ideas and translating them into art. Ideally, his work inspires conversation. “I create stimulation, and I try to put that into my work.”

He started in 1974, learning by doing. It was slow, because he had trouble obtaining glass. Now he’s a teacher as well as a student; last year, he made himself available to local high-school students interested in learning his craft.

Paulson’s most recent project is his “aspen tree” sculptures. He melts and bends long thin tubes of white creamy glass over a blue flame, creating denuded aspen trees with small dark scars left by the flame. He plants them in a rock or chunk of log, and displays them against a backdrop — a photograph taken by Bob Thomason, a Westcliffe photographer.

Another branch of Del’s work takes him out to old churches to restore stained glass windows. His current projects include Methodist and Mennonite churches in Newton, Kansas. He also creates new church windows. Most recently, he designed and installed stained glass for the Community United Methodist Church in Westcliffe.

During the recent building boom in the Wet Mountain Valley, Paulson has designed and created many custom pieces for private homes. Besides the obvious windows, he has made fireplace covers, room dividers, sconces, lamp shades, table tops, cabinet doors, and a spectacular pool-table light.

He strongly believes that people cannot live properly without stained glass in their environment.

Del starts a project by talking with clients about their vision for the piece. He looks for a theme as the foundation, and visits the location where the glass will abide so he can find complementary colors to weave into the work. Then plans are drawn and revised.

When it comes to design, he says he lets the glass do its own thing. “Sheets of glass have their own form,” Del maintains. “I look at the sheet to find individual pieces, the wing of a bird or the curve of a mountain.”

The construction involves cutting the pattern with special wide scissors — the width of the lead which will hold the glass in place. The glass is then cut to match the pattern pieces, and assembled with the lead.

The glass fits loosely until the joints are soldered, and the glass is joined with glazing, which will give the piece strength once the putty-like glazing has dried. Large windows must be engineered as well as designed — they need brace bars, hidden in the window’s pattern.

Del is tackling some new projects in blown glass — plates, goblets, bowls, and sculptures. He has also created numerous pieces of unusual jewelry.

His work can be seen at Glasscliffe, a gallery which Del operates with his wife, Linda Loraine, in Westcliffe. The gallery also displays the photography of Bob Thomason and prints of the Old West; for more information, call 719-783-0350.

Leah Lahtinen works for the radio station in Walsenburg and the newspaper in Westcliffe, and lives in Gardner, more or less in between. Her car gets great gas mileage.