Written and Photographed by Lynn Walker Hoverson
She started it! In 1977 a young woman in her mid- twenties moved to Harlingen, Texas from Austin, Texas. With a fair amount of stained glass experience to her name, Jerrie Howell opened the Hand of Man stained glass business in Harlingen and she has not stopped designing, fabricating, repairing and educating at the same location where it began. These photographs of her “comfortable shop” as she refers to her long-running business show only a fraction of what her talented hands have produced during the past forty-five plus years. Her stained glass projects grace condos on South Padre Island and other Rio Grande Valley locations, homes in Dallas and other places in Texas, and smaller, cherished places for students’ productions completed during Jerrie’s educational classes.
Her first stained glass class was at night school in Austin. She knew right away that it was a craft she truly enjoyed. That quality must have shone through because after only 6 weeks, she was hired to teach the same class, a basic level of stained glass skills. Her natural artistic talent bloomed as she continued learning the “tools of the trade” —which have not changed much at all from the beginning of stained glass history. She has continued to draw her own original designs. “I had to count on my self and an eraser! There were no computers when I began.” Seeing her students Googling for ideas is always a disappointment to her and she believes, although perhaps the Internet is an interesting place to look for seeing what a student might like or dislike for designs— relying on it “kills your creativity”.
During a time between participating in her first stained glass class and her relocation to Harlingen, Jerrie worked for a stained glass company in Florida. Her work for them included teaching stained glass classes and selling the necessary supplies and equipment for those classes. It was a “traveling” endeavor that required moving all the glass and tools, etc.— every time there was a new venue—which was often; the continuation of laboring like that came to a welcome end. In her spacious location at Hand of Man, Jerrie has been able to spread out and display the many varied colors and textures of what is, undoubtedly, the most interesting supply of stained glass in the Rio Grande Valley.
She has a special corner in her shop filled with particularly unique stained glass pieces that she personally reserves for fine accents and other special effects in her own projects, much to the dismay of students who can see the sparkling appeal of “the good stuff”. Jerrie said one of the main differences between antique stained glass artisans and people working in this medium in the present day— is that now— there is a great abundance of glass to choose from.
Being able to laugh about it now, she explained that if any projects could be considered “nightmare projects”, they would be from the repair category— due to the tedious aspects of stained glass window assemblage. Broken pieces of glass have to be removed from the damaged areas. The channel that each piece fits into captures a depth of the edges of glass. There is often well-aged putty still trapped within those spaces. The gunk has to be removed to make way for a new glass piece and that can require hours of painstaking scraping and picking with an Exacto knife to properly prepare the surfaces.
Another shift in the world of stained glass fabricating is one of Jerrie’s concerns for the future of stained glass business: obtaining top quality supplies and equipment. “This is not a fast craft”. To produce an heirloom quality artwork calls for setting a high standard. One of her suppliers of glass, molds and equipment was recently destroyed in an explosive fire of its long-established location. She thinks it might be possible the company will never recover from that disaster—one less resource. Many stained businesses are winding down as owners get older and find themselves without someone to pass their stained glass legacy on to.“It is what I really enjoy doing.”, said Jerrie. Even though she is, technically, retired, people depend on her to stay open and she said really wouldn’t know what else to do if she did not have her shop.
She added that after her Dad died a few years ago, her attitude changed. Sometimes she looks around at her stained glass establishment and wonders what will happen to it all; will the contents all end up in a big garage sale one day because there will perhaps be no one that knows what to do with it? That topic lead to a turn in our conversation. She told me something I had never heard about stained glass. According to Jerrie, the White House in Washington, D.C.—prior to Mr. “New Deal President” Roosevelt—had walls of beautiful stained glass installed in it. Some were Tiffany Studios stained glass; but Roosevelt had them all removed. Where they ended up is a mystery!
Even though Jerrie’s Hand of Man shop of stained glass wonders has suffered flooding several times of its interior—sometimes as much as 14” deep— she hasn’t quit yet! She continues to design, fabricate, repair and educate. She conducts classes which are usually limited to 7 students at a time. “It takes a lot of space to work on stained glass projects”. Word of mouth advertising is usually how people find out about Hand of Man and their classes. So, now, you the reader knows about this creative opportunity, too.
Call Jerrie at Hand of Man: 956-428-4562