Today we’d like to introduce you to Kathryn Welch and Sondra Kretschmar. Them and their team share their story with us below:
The artistic partnership of Kathryn Welch and Sondra Kretschmar began as two individual artists with a passion for stained glass. Around 2015, Kathryn rebranded her fledgling business, calling it River City Glassworks. She and Sondra met through the Art League in San Marcos and realized that not only were they both glass artists, but they really got along well! Sondra would assist Kathryn with large commissions until 2021 when they decided that they were stronger together, and they officially became business partners. With their various fields of expertise, they complement each other in their teaching methods, design styles, fabrication methods, and restoration experience.
Here’s Kathryn’s story:
“I have been designing and creating stained glass artwork since 2006. Specializing in custom residential and commercial pieces, I also repair and restore stained glass and teach classes on all levels. When I am not creating custom work for clients, I create one-of-a-kind, creatively inspired windows and mosaic sculptures for art galleries and markets in the Central Texas region. My work is known for its creative, outside-the-box design aspects and often incorporates objects such as agates, rondels, gems, wirework, and overlays.
I am often asked what drew me to life as an artist, and stained glass in particular. A lifetime of creativity and time spent alone in nature led me to explore my talents throughout my high school and college days, entering college as a music major but taking a wide variety of art classes, including photography, drawing, and ceramics. Later in life, I found myself reconnecting with my creativity and my driving need to work with my hands to create beautiful artworks and to bring old things back to life.
I settled on stained glass and threw myself into the medium. In my early days of learning stained glass, I checked out every book that the local library offered on the subject (no YouTube back then!), becoming well versed in the history of the medium, its finest craftsmen, and techniques. I taught myself to design stained glass pieces by spending hours with my sketchpad, studying the works of the masters. I work in leaded construction, the Tiffany, or copper foil method, and mosaic.”
Here’s Sondra’s story:
“I moved to San Marcos in 2008 after my husband’s fatal motorcycle accident. My art became a form of self-healing and I am passionate about contributing to the local art community. Not only do I work in stained glass, but I also enjoy painting with oils, acrylic gouache, watercolor, and ink. Creating various forms of sculpture and collage also interests me, and certain pieces of my art are made with glass that I recover from our beautiful San Marcos River. After tattooing professionally for 24 years, I made a decision to transition into glass art full-time. I am now co-owner at River City Glassworks and have remarried.
I love glass: I love to talk about it, I love to look at it, I love to work with it. The anticipation of seeing first light shine through a project that I’ve been working on for days, or weeks, is what drives me. The ability that sunlight has to transform the glass still amazes me and the excitement of witnessing it is indescribable. After being a professional tattoo artist for many years, I have developed my own personal style of design. I’ve transferred this style into my stained glass work and I believe it gives me a creative edge. I love big, bold designs. I want the focal point of my pieces to be easily and quickly identified from a distance. I am happy and very blessed.”
We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
It has been a relatively smooth road, as anytime you get to do what you love, you get to wake up energized and ready for the day’s creative challenges. However, as any small business owner will tell you, there are many hats to be worn and challenges to overcome. Even with a partnership, there never seems to be enough hours in the day to complete all the tasks that running a business requires.
Also, as women, we are called to be caretakers. Kathryn has a teenager living at home and Sondra is a caregiver for her elderly mother. We decided early on that “family comes first,” and we are very in-tune and empathetic with each other’s needs which may pull us away from the studio from time to time.
Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
At River City Glassworks, we are primarily a stained glass studio with a teaching facility. That’s it in a nutshell, but our day-to-day work encompasses so much more. We teach all levels of stained glass, from very beginner, never-touched-a-tool, to full leadwork. Many of our students return for further instruction or to work beside us in open studio time. We also offer glass, tools, chemicals, and much more for sale.
In our commission work, we don’t rely on ready-made patterns. After all, we are artists! A huge part of the satisfaction of our work starts in the design phase, where we get to express our artistic voice. Sondra and Kathryn spend many hours poring over their designs, making suggestions for each other and tweaking until it is just perfect. Once the client gives their approval and the glass is chosen, the construction phase begins. When the piece is finally finished, we have the honor of seeing “first light” as it comes through the window, showing us the beauty of the glass and letting us know that we chose well.
With our various backgrounds and circle of artist friends, there is almost nothing that we can’t accomplish. We were recently tasked with restoring an antique mirror that had been broken. It had original painting on the back which was severely damaged. With Sondra’s background in painting, she was able to restore the painting and re-silver the mirror (working backwards, mirror-image). Kathryn’s experience in antiques and her passion for restoration also comes in handy when a client brings in an unusual piece for repair. Using 3D printing technology to create kiln forms, we are able to reproduce rare, vintage glass to make seamless repairs.
Many people enjoy the art of stained glass, but one thing that sets us apart is our curiosity and willingness to learn and experiment with the medium. It is endlessly fascinating!
The crisis has affected us all in different ways. How has it affected you and any important lessons or epiphanies you can share with us?
The Covid-19 crisis did affect our business in certain ways. For example, we had to start teaching in small “pods” rather than having a variety of people in an enclosed space. The pandemic also affected our workflow for a while in 2020. This was temporary, luckily.
One lesson from the crisis was that stained glass is eternal. Even the smallest suncatcher can have a tremendous emotional significance to people. We have had many clients who have brought in repairs, saying that they are spending more time thinking about their homes and surroundings and want to fix things that have needed attention for years. As a society, we are appreciating more the aesthetic of home, the meaning of home, and what makes us feel safe and in control. Having a beautiful window or a restored piece from one’s grandmother helps bring that safe feeling into a home.
- Email: email@example.com
- Website: www.rivercityglassworks.com
- Instagram: @river.city.glassworks
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/river.city.glassworks
Sondra Kretschmar and Kathryn Welch