She claims she wasn’t interested in art while a high school student in Mount Vernon, Ind., the area where she was born and raised. But Katherine Hall’s talents bloomed as she got older, and today, at the youthful age of 89, she is a painter, an accomplished stained glass artist and a former award-winning cake decorator. She started working with stained glass art and painting after she retired in the early 1980s.
As a very active senior, Katherine stated, “You can’t sit down. If you do, you can’t function mentally or physically.” It’s obvious that she doesn’t sit much.
After graduating from high school, Katherine’s family moved to Kentucky and that is where she met and married her husband, Tom. Shortly after World War II, they moved to California where Tom worked as a machinist for Boeing, and Katherine, who completed beauty school, opened a hair salon that she owned for 20 years.
“I suffered burnout styling hair, so I switched to dog grooming instead,” she admitted. Her only customer now is Beau, her 2-year-old Shih Tzu, the seventh dog of this toy breed she has owned.
In 1986, the couple moved to Nevada, where they lived for 16 years before moving to the Brainerd/Baxter area. Their only son, Tom Jr., was a pilot for American Airlines. He died at the age of 60 from a massive heart attack, seven months before Tom Sr. died in 2001. Katherine and Tom shared 60 years together. Since she had family in the area, Katherine decided to stay and now lives in Baxter, where half of her garage serves as her stained glass art studio, a craft that she learned while living in California.
Stained glass has been referred to as both an art and a craft. It became popular during the Middle Ages as a media used to illustrate many stories from the Bible to a large illiterate population.
In today’s homes, stained glass can be seen in large beveled glass front entryways, Tiffany-style lamp shades, down to the tiny sun catcher hanging in the kitchen window.
In the past 30 plus years, Katherine has focused on stained glass lampshades, which can be seen throughout her home, in addition to her many paintings on the walls. She has given many lamps as gifts but has also done commissioned works.
The largest lamp shade she has made is a 2,000-piece wisteria shade, flowers that hang in clusters.
She has also made windows, including her largest, a 6-foot- wide domed window.
She buys sheets of colored glass which she scores (cuts) to fit the pattern for the shade.
Various styles of plaster or plastic patterned molds are used to create the shades. But sometimes Katherine puts the patterns aside and creates her own starting with pencil and paper.
The entire process is very detailed, including fusing in which she places the glass in her kiln at over 1,000 degrees. Any pieces of glass added to the surface of the main piece are absorbed and meld into the surface which becomes flat again.
In the process of slumping, the glass is heated in the kiln to a high temperature where it softens and follows the contours of a mold. The temperature determines how much of a curve the glass is allowed to slump.
When one enters her garage studio, a small bright red bean bag chair catches the eye as it sits on top of her work table. However, it’s not Beau’s bed from which to watch his master work. When Katherine is using a soldering iron to connect the colored glass pieces together, she positions the lampshade, which is still on the mold, on top of the bean bag chair to prevent the melted solder from running down the sides of the shade.
“I’ve found that placing the mold on the bag keeps the shade (mold) from moving around. The solder won’t run, and I just have to move the shade slightly around as I solder,” she explained.
Katherine, also known as Kate, is a member of the Association of Stained Glass Lamp Artists (ASGLA), a nonprofit organization started in the state of Washington in 1991. There are now over 800 artists from 48 states and 27 countries.
Every year the ASGLA asks it members to contribute a small stained glass panel or square for the “quilt” of glass that is displayed at glass trade shows and at the ASGLA headquarters. A different theme is chosen each year. In 2002, the theme was a fish which Katherine submitted, and it was accepted for the quilt of glass. The quilt and various styles of lamps are printed in the annual calendar, Lamps for All Seasons.
In an extra bedroom of her townhome is where Katherine paints. She started taking lessons at the age of 84 and plans to continue the weekly lessons with local artists. She started with acrylic painting and moved on to oils, watercolor and pastels.
“My favorite is oils as you can blend the paints well if you make a mistake,” she smiled.
Her pastels are very eye-catching, especially the two of Sharbat Gula, whose photo appeared on the cover of the National Geographic magazine in 1985. The young Afghan girl’s photo was taken in a refugee camp in Pakistan. The story in the magazine said Sharbat’s green eyes captivated the world.
Seventeen years later, Steve McCurry, the photographer, returned to Pakistan to find her, took more photos and interviewed her through an interpreter. McCurry was the only person to ever take Sharbat’s picture.
Intrigued with the photos and the story, Katherine used her chalk to create pastels of Sharbat, both as the young girl on the cover and as the aged woman who rarely smiles but still has the same glaring eyes that witnessed so much death. Both pictures are framed and hang in Katherine’s home.
Katherine said that she looks for a face with character. Such was the case when she was traveling through Wyoming and stopped at a “tourist trap” that served ice cream. A friendly man with deep smile lines was eating his cone as he spoke and laughed with the staff and customers.
“So I asked him if I could take his picture so that I could paint him in pastels,” Katherine remembered. “He was surprised but let me take his photo.” That pastel is also in her home, and she sent one to the jovial man.
Katherine has never entered her artwork in contests, but her work as been displayed in various galleries.
She retired from full-time work when she was in her late 50s. She decided to try her artistic talents at cake decorating, took classes and joined a cake decorating club. Her photo albums include nearly every cake she made – a variety of cakes for weddings, birthdays and other occasions.
She shared a story about an African-American friend for whom she made a cake. She would “paint” his face on the cake.
“He told me not to make his face too black,” she said, “So I made it with cocoa powder.”
Katherine entered her cakes in many contests, some of which were held on the Queen Mary, which is docked permanently in Long Beach, Calif. She brought home many awards for her artistic talents.
Except for family or friend gatherings, she no longer decorates cakes.
With the money she made in her home-based business, she was able to pay for a two-week trip to Italy in 2001. She enjoys traveling and has also visited France, Nova Scotia and many sites in the U.S. Due to back problems she doesn’t pack the suitcase as often.
She still drives her car and said sternly, “Nobody better take my wheels away!”
Katherine has no planned adventures on her bucket list. She wants to continue taking painting lessons, and the sole item on the list is to improve her oil painting.