Tyree MacFarland’s Etched and Stained Glass Art
By Jim Hornsby
Tyree MacFarland’s artwork sparkles in the afternoon sunlight like diamonds in a jeweler’s showcase. I saw some pieces in the window of her shop on Belmont Boulevard and was compelled to stop in and learn more about them. From inside the shop, the stained and etched glass she displays is even more beautiful, taking on a special glow with the sunlight from behind.
“Light is so important; such an integral part of my work,” Tyree explained. “With glass, the most important part is the light that comes through it.”
Glass has fascinated mankind since prehistoric times when it was found naturally in volcanic formations. Pre-Roman civilizations developed glass production for a variety of uses and decorations, and the science and art of working with glass has been a significant part of our culture ever since.
Tyree has been a successful artist in glass since she purchased her shop in 1979. “My head has always been in the arts,” she says, “but I didn’t intend to be an artist. I have an undergraduate degree in psychology, and I had planned to get my masters degree, but along the way I took an elective course in decorative glass and fell in love with it.
“I was in Nashville working on my masters degree when, for fun, I got a job at a decorative glass shop in the Green Hills area. Soon after taking the job, the owner decided to leave Nashville, and I offered to buy his business. To my surprise, he said yes. I was too young and full of energy to know what a chance I was taking. Luckily, Nashville had a significant building boom in the 1980s and there were lots of orders for decorative glass. The business has done well ever since.”
If luck had a hand in getting her started, her remarkable talent and love for the art have propelled her to success. MacFarland’s work is found in churches, businesses and homes throughout the country, and she’s been featured on the Home and Garden cable television network (HGTV). Locally, her pieces can be seen at Vanderbilt Hospital, Warner Brothers and RCA Recording Studios, the Governor’s mansion, and in the homes and offices of numerous music luminaries like Dolly Parton, Reba McIntyre, and Naomi Judd.
In addition to her skill at creating art, Tyree is noted for her technical and historical knowledge of glass; she has been called upon to repair and replace fragile historic glass in the Frist Center for the Visual Arts and the Tennessee State Capitol. She frequently conducts student workshops and she will be teaching at the Appalachian Center for Crafts in Smithville this spring.
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Photos by Jim Hornsby
“I am largely self-taught,” she says. “I have been fortunate to attend workshops conducted by the very best decorative glass artists, but most of what I have learned has been from experience. I work mainly with leaded and etched glass, because I have the facilities to do both, but I have also worked with neon and blown glass. Sometimes I combine two or more methods. I remember one piece I did that was etched glass with neon edging; another that I did for Dolly Parton’s office was made up of multiple layers of etched glass. Both are very striking combinations.
“I use glass from around the world. Some is produced by assembly-line methods and some, the more expensive types, are hand-made. Metallic oxides — iron, cobalt, selenium, and gold — are added to molten glass to produce its various colors.
“Leaded or ‘stained’ glass works are made the way they have been for centuries; all the pieces are hand cut, assembled, fixed together with strips of lead and framed. Etched glass, by contrast, is typically one large sheet of glass that is sandblasted to ‘carve’ out an image. Early glass etching was done with hydrofluoric acid, but I rarely use it because the fumes are so toxic. Working with lead can also be dangerous and I am careful to wash my hands frequently when I use it.
“Etching is very tedious work. I have to use a complex series of mats to control the surface exposure, and with 120 pounds of compressed air pounding sand onto the glass, I have to be careful not to etch away too much — that could ruin the entire piece. But the results are well worth the effort; the shadows and shadings of an etched glass piece give it a special glow that isn’t found in other art.”
Sharp edges are an occupational hazard of working with glass and Tyree has had her share of cuts. “I keep an ample supply of Band-Aids on hand,” she says with a smile. “Most cuts occur when I am reaching into the scrap bins, but I remember one incident when we were unloading a large box of glass sheets from a truck and the end of the box came open. The glass came crashing out onto the pavement, and we were lucky that no one was serious injured.
“But seeing happy customers makes it all worthwhile. I especially like helping clients design their commissioned art glass. Some have ideas in mind before they come in, and others develop ideas as we talk about the function and decorative quality they are looking for. Left to my own design, I enjoy working with contemporary, geometric shapes and patterns, but the possibilities are endless. Working with glass is great fun and there is nothing else I would rather be doing.”
Tyree operates Helios Artglassworks at 3108 Belmont Boulevard in Nashville Tennessee. You can see more of her work at www.heliosartglassworks.com. She specializes in commissioned glass art, and you can reach her at 615-297-5676 or by email at email@example.com.