Text by Jennifer Poff Cooper
Photos by Always and Forever Photography
“I’ve never known why or how ideas pop into my head. They just show up,” says stained glass artist Nikki Pynn. She started with stained glass when she lived in Richmond, where she had earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting and Printmaking at Virginia Commonwealth University.
During her time there, she rented a room in a huge, 3-story house in the Fan District owned by VCU art professor Art Miller. He and his family lived on the first two floors and rented rooms on the third floor and in the basement. Pynn’s then-fiancé and now husband, David, rented a basement room for a summer. The basement was where Art would sometimes work on stained glass, and on one of her trips downstairs to visit David, she says she was “pulled” into the work area by the beauty of the glass. “I was caught,” Pynn says of her new-found fascination with glass.
From there, she learned by trial and error, going to Miller for critiques. “Gradually, I went from crude cheap tools to the more refined ones made for stained glass work. Just after the birth of my first son, I worked in a stained glass shop in Richmond owned by a friend who let me bring Calvin. I worked with him strapped to my back until he became mobile, and I learned about organization of projects from that experience and perfected my soldering.”
Originally from Mississippi, then raised in New Orleans and later the northern Virginia area, Pynn moved to the New River Valley in 1990 when her husband got a job at the foundry in Radford. She has been on a journey to find the ideal studio for years.
“I have always worked on art in whatever space I could carve out for myself in basements, sheds and corners. I joke that my studio comes with a washer and dryer because usually there is one close by, including my current studio which is a real work space. When we made our last move, I didn’t care what the kitchen or bedroom was like. I focused on getting a decent studio, and we found the perfect place.”
Creatively, Pynn works best when she allows thoughts to jump around in her head as opposed to being strictly organized. She tends to work rapidly with more than one thing on the table at a time. “I don’t think about cleaning or organization until it’s piled above my head,” she says.
Pynn doesn’t adopt a set style, though folks have deemed her work organic. “I really like that because I want lines to flow and appear to have a natural purpose. In terms of inspiration, she’ll say: “I like to have a ‘jumping off point.’” A glass shard, in itself, can spark an idea. “I don’t have a particular subject I work with but will go through themes. One winter, on a trip to the beach, I learned to do wire wrapping around sea glass.” She rarely does the same design twice.
About three years ago, Pynn started including found objects in her work. “I had become bored with the usual flat panel after working in that manner since 1980. Adding objects became a challenge in logistics. I found that some things could be soldered onto glass. If not, I have to find another way to attach it. Creative problem solving makes working in this style more interesting. I feel like I’m still in an early discovery stage to the larger 3-D pieces and that there is a lot of open ground to cover,” she explains, despite working in stained glass for decades.
All types of people buy Pynn’s work. “Listening to them when they make a purchase, it’s usually because they are intrigued by what they see.” Pynn makes affordable pieces because she knows some people who want art have little to spend. “I love seeing the reaction of people viewing one of my larger, more complicated pieces. Their interaction is a confirmation for me.”
Her work is in a variety of galleries such as Chestnut Creek School of the Arts in Galax, Green Heron in Radford, and Artful Lawyer in Blacksburg. She participates in local shows like the Y Craft Show and Steppin’ Out as well. “I just grab opportunities as I can. Any sale I make, I consider money going to support my glass habit. I haven’t attempted to make a living off my art. I believe that will happen if it’s meant to happen.”
Her Facebook page perhaps captures the artist best: “Nikki Pynn Studio, home to a table constantly littered with broken glass. Colored clutter of finished and future ideas.”