Peter Heldon produces beautiful coloured glass, and you can too at his workshop in Taree.
How long has the Leadlight Workshop been open for, and why did you choose Taree as the location?
The Leadlight Workshop started in a 5 square metre front room of a house in Cundletown in 1981. At the time, I was jobless. Stained glass was a hobby I had played with for a while and enjoyed, and I thought I may be able to make some money at it.
I had lived in Taree since moving from Sydney in 1969 but couldn’t afford to move, so Taree was it. The Leadlight Workshop is now the largest shop of its kind between Sydney and Brisbane.
How did your interest in leadlighting come about, and how has the business grown since?
I became interested in stained glass as a hobby. I wanted to include some in a new house I was building, and there was no one in or around Taree who could make some for me. So I set about to make my own, found a book and some suppliers in Sydney, and had a go. The results weren’t that great.
I subsequently found some courses I could attend in Sydney. That made a big difference. I met some nice people who were really enthusiastic about the magic of stained glass and really got into it. The business has grown from there.
Apart from leadlighting and stained glass, we supply commissioned work in sandblasted glass, glass mosaics and fused and slumped glass. The business also caters to all the stained glass hobbyists out there, with one of the best online supply oriented websites in Australia.
What can people expect to learn at your leadlighting workshops?
With over 25 years of teaching experience, the wealth of knowledge gained from our commissioned work and a well equipped workspace, our students are encouraged to attempt whatever project they wish to achieve. Anything from a suncatcher or lampshade to a full front entry.
Our glass fusing classes have produced some fantastic pieces, and the glass mosaics are always stunning.
What is involved in the process of producing stained glass objects?
All our students, no matter which discipline they wish to pursue, start by learning to cut glass. Because every subsequent process is dependent on this, we put a fair bit of emphasis on this process.
Within a couple of hours most people are proficient and still have all their fingers. It’s a pretty rewarding and handy skill to have. As with all projects, the designing stage is important and, while a lot of students will go for a found design, those who wish to design their own are encouraged and assisted to do so.
With a selection over 450 different varieties of glass to choose from in the shop, deciding on the glass to use in a project can be a bit time consuming for some students.
However, with a bit of guidance as to what would work in their situation and according to their tastes, we soon have it worked out.
The production of the project is just work, and the techniques and skills we have acquired and can pass on to our students makes this a rewarding experience for them as well as for us.
Who can do this?
We have found that you are never too old or too young to enjoy the process of working with glass. It is fascinating stuff. We have had workshops with children between 6 and 10 years old being completely engrossed for hours. We have had men and women in their 80s making panels and lampshades. I think if the desire is there on the part of the learner, we can teach anyone.
Why do you think leadlighting is something that should be experienced and kept alive?
The ever changing beauty of glass in all its forms always gives me a good feeling. The ability to make something that people will enjoy for a long time is very rewarding. The disciplines and constraints involved in the design and manufacture of a stained glass project gives me a sense a accomplishment. No two commissions are ever the same.
Every student has a different set of desires. My job is to use my skills to satisfy either the client, the student or the customer. If I can do this, then I’m OK and so are they.
What else are you interested in besides stained glass and running the business?
I am interested in many other things; however, like most small business owners, time is a problem. Luckily I live on a property at upper Lansdowne surrounded by volcanic dykes, rolling hills and crystal creeks.
Maintaining and improving the property absorbs most of my free time. Always building something, which currently consists of extensions to an existing studio. Hopefully, one day, I shall spend my time playing in the studio. I do a bit of travelling.
At the moment I have a son in Indonesia, and for the last couple of years I have spent my holidays exploring some of Java and Sumatra.
What are some of the items that you’ve made for your customers using stained glass?
Throughout the years we have been commissioned to do a variety of projects.
Included is these would be church windows, front entries, window panels, door panels, kitchen cupboard inserts, all types of repairs, lampshades, suncatchers, wedding table gifts, sandblasted designs, panels for hotel and restaurant interiors, glass mosaic structures and mirrors and more repairs.
What do you hope for the business?
I hope that I can continue to provide a quality service to the people of the region. Help my students become addicted to the magic of stained glass and give them access to the supplies and advice necessary to maintain that addiction.
I would hope that your readers would look to stained glass as a medium which can change with the trends in housing and design in order to improve the aesthetic quality of any environment.
Thank you Peter.