Stained glass artist David Yancey pieces together dynamic creations that bring colors to life as the glass pieces shift with light changes throughout the day. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton
Stained glass artist David Yancey moved around small pieces of colored glass on his light table as if fitting together a jigsaw puzzle. Unlike mass-produced images on cardboard, Yancey’s puzzle had a more personal connection, the final work representing a unique vision with a lasting legacy.
“I guess that’s what I really enjoy the most, is coming up with this idea, working through it, and then putting it all together into something, you know, that could last generations,” he said in his studio on the shores of Lake Buchanan. “You know, what I make here is something a person could possibly pass down to their children or grandchildren.”
A former graphic artist, Yancey uses light tables, computers, and advanced cutting tools from his Texas Colors Stained Glass Studio in Silver Lake for restorations, commissions, and original pieces. Now created with modern tools, the art of stained glass dates back centuries, its history visible in churches and cathedrals around the world with admirers and artisans drawn to the dynamics.
“When you see a stained glass window or art, it’s something more than a (two-dimensional) work,” Yancey said. “It changes throughout the day, even year, depending on how the sun or light strikes it.”
A stained glass piece exposed to the sun or outdoor lighting isn’t a one-and-done creation. It re-imagines itself every time the light changes.
“It comes alive,” Yancey explained. “You see it at one time during the day and the light reflects through it one way, and you come back later and it’s totally different. That’s one of the things that makes it so fun to work with and create.”
Yancey’s first stained glass commission 21 years ago brought him into the art. A neighbor asked him if he could refurbish an old, worn-out stained glass panel. Yancey knew nothing about the process, so he took a class.
“I just fell in love with it,” he said. “It’s such an all-encompassing art form.”
Stained glass allowed him to bring all of the elements he loved about graphic design, photography, sculpture, and other art forms together into one. Also, it had staying power.
While he loved graphic art, he felt his work in print advertising was fleeting. Final creations were tossed into trash or recycle bins when readers were done with the magazine or newspaper in which his ads were printed. People hold onto stained glass pieces, however, passing them on to future generations. They also become permanent fixtures in homes and businesses.
About six months after completing his class and first commission, he quit his job and became the manager of the studio where he learned the craft. Two years later, Yancey opened his own studio, which he eventually moved from Austin to the Highland Lakes.
As a stained glass artist, Yancey takes commissions, most often for pieces to go in windows or doors.
For a Brady patron, Yancey made a stained glass piece based on a photo of a magnificent buck seen on the client’s property.
Yancey created a design featuring the white-tailed deer in a Hill Country setting. Even though the client had a good idea of what he wanted, Yancey was able to enhance the project with his own vision.
“Sometimes, clients don’t know exactly what they want,” Yancey said.
This is where Yancey shines. He visits the client’s home or business to get a sense of the light, layout, and feel of the location. He asks questions, talking through the evolving concept. Then, he goes to work.
“You know, when those things start coming together and I begin to see a project and what it could be, all the colors and light mixing, that’s when it really gets fun,” Yancey said.
In the next step, he puts his vision on paper, usually using a computer. Modern technology allows him to tweak his design, even offering several possibilities to clients.
“The designs go through an evolution,” he said. “Clients love it when I put together different visuals for them.”
Once a design is approved, the paper version is laid out on a light table in his shop and the jigsaw puzzle begins to take shape in glass.
While he does much of his work in his studio, Yancey occasionally hits the road for a commission. In 2014, he helped restore a church in Whitesboro, Texas, into a wedding and special events venue. The building had 45 different windows. Some of the panels were 18 feet by 25 feet.
He actually located the manufacturer of the original stained glass, Kokomo Opalescent Glass in Kokomo, Indiana, and was able to replace and restore the church’s windows.
“That was almost a six-month project,” Yancey said.
He also handles smaller restoration pieces. He is currently working on a Tiffany-style lamp for a client.
It doesn’t matter the size of the project. If it’s something new he’s creating or something he’s refurbishing or restoring, Yancey sees each stained glass work in its own light.
“With stained glass, it’s the same in some ways, but it’s also very different,” he said. “Each one is its own challenge. I love taking on a new challenge and see what I can create from it.”