MILFORD, Maine — A gorgeous fireplace occupies the center of the cabin’s back wall. If you could sit on the living room sofa, your eyes would follow its stonework to a peaked ceiling, interrupted only by the railing of the loft, where the curtains match the quilt on the bed. Sunlight streams through green valances and reflects off the shiny surface of the kitchen table, surrounded by elegant high-backed chairs.
But you can’t sit in the kitchen chairs or on the sofa. They’re much too small; and besides, the rustic cabin and all of its contents are made of stained glass.
The fragile abode, carefully crafted by Milford artist Amber Martin, won second place in sculpture in the Delphi Online Art Glass Festival 2011 on April 20. The international contest received more than 1,000 entries, each submitted with five photos by email, according to the online gallery.
“It took many, many hours to make,” Martin said as she tapped the rocking chair into motion and dusted off a side table with the sweep of her finger while working in her studio on Friday. “It was a pain in the butt, and I burned myself a lot making all these little things.”
Martin has placed in the Delphi contest three times in the past four years. Her life-sized glass guitar won first place in 2008, and her glass jazz band, complete with a piano and brass instruments, won third place in 2009. Last year, she didn’t make the top three, a failure that boosted her to blow the judges away with her 2011 creation.
“I have to come up with something so special, no one’s ever done it in glass,” Martin had said to fellow hairstylist Jean Rustin as they sat in Martin’s kitchen last spring, taking a break between hair appointments in Martin’s at-home salon, Cosmo’s Hair.
Rustin, who helps Martin in copper taping (bordering glass pieces with strips of thin copper), always wanted a dollhouse as a little girl. As she sat in thought, it came to her: Martin should build a glass dollhouse.
“I looked at her and said, ‘Are you insane?’” said Martin, thinking that a large structure like that likely would collapse.
But the seed was planted. The more Martin thought about a house, the more attainable it seemed. If she built a log cabin, the interior and exterior could be the same brown glass pattern, eliminating the need to layer the glass.
Using card paper, she constructed a full-scale model and tweaked it until the delicate walls and ceiling held up and the kitchen cabinets looked proportional. After months of studying spiral staircases and learning how to add electrical lighting from dollhouse maker and salon client Linwood Randall, the glass cabin was complete. Miniature light bulbs illuminate each table lamp, the overhead fan, light over the stove and the orange glass of the fireplace, but there’s nothing better for lighting a glass creation than sunlight.
Originally a painter, Martin attended an introductory glass workshop and started making simple glass angels nine years ago. She quickly progressed. Using a computer program, online videos and books, she created her own designs of sun catchers and lamps. But she truly learned how to handle glass while building the seven valances over her sunroom windows, just three months after first picking up stained glass.
Her art studio, previously a facial room and flower shop, is connected to her hair salon. Just as hairspray vapor drifts across the hall to settle on her glass creations, the salon customers began drifting into the studio to feast their eyes on the colorful creations. It wasn’t long before her hobby became a small business: AmberLyn’s Stained Glass.
“I have so much crammed into each window, you almost have to look five times,” Martin said.
On her workbench and checkout counter (one and the same), a desk lamp stoops over her latest 2-D project, two swans forming a heart shape with their elegant necks.
From the picture windows across the room, colors and shapes emerge as plump grapes, a cardinal and massive butterfly, an orange tiger cat and dangling hummingbirds with silver throats. A peacock creeps up the side of the window, looking back at its orange, green and blue plumage, while a rooster struts along the sill.
In the second picture window, the Native American fertility deity Kokopelli and an angel playing a violin flank the Egyptian Eye of Horus, hovering over a tranquil Buddha.
“It’s weird how it happens. Sometimes I see something that inspires me, but sometimes I dream it. A lot come to me like that,” Martin said.
Recently, flying fish jumped through Martin’s mind while she was in limbo between wakefulness and sleep. The next morning, she found photos of the fish on the Internet to refer to as she crafted them of glass.
Out of the hundreds of pieces in her shop, she can pick out only one small hanging star that isn’t her own design.
“I have to make it my own,” she said.
Martin is a self-taught artist and has attended only a few community art classes, but artistic talent runs in her family. As a single mother of a daughter, she opted for a quick postsecondary education so she could enter the work force and support her small family. After attending beauty school, she has managed beauty schools and owned salons throughout Maine for many years, eventually deciding that she’d rather work for herself.
She cuts hair 2½ days a week, and the rest of the time is devoted to glass. Looking at the amount of work on display in her shop and purchased artwork recorded in her album, it’s staggering to think she has created it in less than a decade. But the amount of time it takes for her to complete a piece depends on its size and complexity, and she works faster as she gains experience.
“I had no idea how hard it was,” she said. “I just love stained glass. It’s gorgeous.”
Running a scoring tool along the surface, she creates a line that bites into the glass, then breaks it with pliers and perfects the edges with a grinder. The kiln in front of her worktable is for firing hand-painted pieces. To the left of her worktable are cubbies filled with copper, zinc, tin, steel rebar and large squares of glass, arranged in a rainbow.
“I feel secure when I have a lot of glass,” she said.
Because she has experienced difficulties in shipping her fragile wares, she hasn’t rushed to create a website and prefers to sell her pieces directly from her shop and make custom pieces such as animal portraits, store signs and household pieces.
“I’m one person,” she said. “I don’t want to get big. I run a small business so I don’t lose my creativity. That’s the exciting part of it. I’ve shocked myself at some of the things I’ve made.”
The cabin, displayed at the center of her shop, is priced at $2,000.
AmberLyn’s Stained Glass is located at 215 County Road in Milford and can be reached at 827-5425. For the month of May, she’s running a 30 to 50 percent-off sale to clear out some of her older inventory.