she discusses functional needs. Will this particular panel let in enough—or too much—light? Also, does the customer want an actual picture? Or does he want something more abstract, perhaps an image that suggests movement?
The thing is, if the finished piece is going to be a surprise, she wants it to be a positive one.
“I don’t want to draw a deer when you really wanted a pheasant,” she says, by way of example. “And had I conversed better, I would have known that.”
Budget is the next factor. With a complete understanding of what the customer has in mind, Bonnie can give that person the most for his money.
Customer sees a sketch
Finally, Bonnie makes a quick sketch and sends it by e-mail to the person so that she will know if she sees the same vision as the customer before the project gets off the ground.
“If they say, ‘I like where you’re heading,’ OK, now I detail it more,” she says.
That done, it’s up to her to run with it, and sometimes that involves taking a notebook to bed with her in case she has an inspiration in the middle of the night.
There are times, too, of course, when she is struggling with a design and has to walk away from it for a while.
“My mind has to go from drawing Jesus to drawing trees and animals in one day,” she says. “It’s all over the place.”
Sometimes people ask her, do you design using a computer?
“I do have programs with that ability,” she says. “But I’d have to spend a lot of time teaching myself how to get to that point, where I can grab a pencil, and I’m much faster just drawing it.”
She starts by setting up visual aids she can look at. For instance, if she’s drawing a deer, she uses photos from a sports magazine.
“I don’t blindly sit here and try to picture a deer in my head,” she says. “I need a number of references sitting in front of me.”
Picking out colors
When everyone agrees with a drawing, it’s time to pick out the colors.
“We lay out different palettes of glass, different colors and textures, and we narrow that down,” says Bonnie.
With that done, it’s time for John, and their children, Josh and Naomi, to take over and create the vision.
When the final product is unveiled, and it all works out as Bonnie envisioned it, “It’s a wonderful feeling,” she says.
But the most rewarding moment is when the customer’s face says, “That piece is more exquisite than I imagined.”
“That can’t be anything but a precious moment,” says Bonnie. “That’s what every artist wants—to feel good that you’ve achieved what they wanted.”
Still, there are times when an individual will come back with, “That’s not what I was thinking...”
That’s when it’s back to the drawing board.
“It’s learning to win and lose,” says Bonnie. “You have to be able to accept that. I can’t take it personal.”
These are things the Abler children have been learning from their parents since they were youngsters. From little on, they were there, right next to their mother, when she sat down to draw, equipped with their crayons. Creating glass masterpieces is in their blood. It’s as natural to them as breathing.
Still, John and Bonnie never forced them to follow in their footsteps. When it came time to pick a career, they told their children to go out in the world and test out different opportunities.
“We’ll still be here,” Bonnie told them.
As it turned out, their middle child, Heather, found her way to a different field, one that is a more perfect match to her talents, but Josh and Naomi came back.
“I can’t stand it,” they said. “It’s in my blood.”
At first, however, Naomi, who seems a good fit for her mother’s role as designer, found the creative process a bit intimidating. It was like an artist who stares at a blank canvas.
“Just put some color on it and get past that,” said her mother. “Play with it. If you don’t like it, wipe it off and start again.”
“Naomi has the ability,” says Bonnie. “I always saw it. Once she got past this intimidation, she just started flying.”
As for the actual glassmaking, sometimes the process goes as planned, but when it doesn’t?
“What one might call a mistake isn’t always a mistake,” said Bonnie.
Sometimes the end result is more desirable than the original plan. Take blown glass, for instance.
“It can be hard to control,” says Bonnie. “But you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s really nice. We need to write that down and do it again.’”
If the Abler children decide to carry continued from page 1
their parents’ trade secrets to the next generation, as it seems they have, they have to realize that this is one career where they cannot depend on a regular paycheck.
“You never know what is or is not coming through that door,” says Bonnie. “As we pull away and they continue to take the business over, our main question for them is, you need to ask yourself, ‘Can I live with that?’”
For now, it seems as if they are not only willing to live with the challenges but are also willing to learn the trade and keep the light shining so that future generations won’t say, “It’s too bad they didn’t pass that on.”
Unlike glass artisans of the past, Josh and Naomi will keep those secrets alive.