CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Ernie Downey, who has created works of art from glass for 41 years, is still fascinated with the process.
"It's just fun," he said. "It's relaxing. It's the ability to make something and see the fruit of your effort."
Downey, 67, of St. Albans creates fine jewelry as well as wind chimes, bowls, vases and paperweights. He also burns images onto plates and repairs items made from stained glass.
It's a hobby and second career of sorts for the Union Carbide retiree who uses his background in chemistry and ability for coming up with his own processes to create masterpieces.
He began working with glass in 1972 when he took an adult education class to learn how to repair a lamp purchased in an antique shop.
He soon was creating stained glass lamps, windows and mirrors. In 2003, Downey became interested in working with glass in a kiln. He now owns four kilns and uses them to produce everything from bowls and wind chimes to magnificent jewelry and plates enhanced with images of photographs, wedding invitations or graduation announcements.
Downey, who has honed his skills through trial and error, keeps careful records of the processes and details so he knows what worked on each kind of glass.
He works out of a garage at his St. Albans home, where he has pieces of glass purchased from throughout the United States to use for his projects.
"Eight or nine years ago, I took a class in fusing glass," he said. "Jewelry and bowls are made by working in a kiln."
Fused glass jewelry includes rings, earrings, necklaces and bracelets. Dichroic glass is used for its multicolored and reflective properties that make it appear to have more than one color when viewed from different angles. Downey puts images on the jewelry such as dragonflies, snowflakes, butterflies or religious symbols.
"I apply a vinyl stencil with the image, cover the piece with acid, let it sit 10 minutes, remove the stencil to reveal the design, rinse the piece and cap it with clear crystal glass," he said. "It's fired in a kiln at 1,400 degrees."
Dichroic glass comes in many colors but he usually uses black for the background in order to have a nice contrast. Dichroic glass of any color he chooses is used on top of the piece for a dazzling image or shimmering colors.
Creating his pieces takes skill, experimentation, perseverance and knowledge. He stresses the importance of documenting successful projects and keeps a notebook filled with details.
"Different glasses react differently at different temperatures," he said.
His educational background helps with honing his skills. He holds a bachelor's in chemistry and biology from West Virginia University and a master's in business from West Virginia College of Graduate Studies.
As the dazzling jewelry is completed, his wife and daughters get first pick, he said.
He and his wife, Lois, are the parents of Lisa Bennett, of Seattle, and Lindsey Downey, a first grade teacher at Piedmont Elementary in Charleston.
Aside from his jewelry, personalized plates have become very popular. He has developed his own methods for putting images on plates such as photographs, wedding invitations and graduation announcements. He declines to share some details about this process.
However, he does teach jewelry-making classes each year at the Festival of Glass at Blenko Glass Co. in Milton. His work is sold at Blenko as well as Cornucopia on Bridge Road in Charleston, and Mug and Pia near Pullman Square in Huntington. Items are also available on his website, www.ernsglass.com. For more information, contact Downey at 304-727-6455.
Information from: Charleston Daily Mail, http://www.dailymail.com