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Process of illumination

Tue., July 31, 2007

Patience, order and beauty are all qualities that illuminate the lives of John Briggs and Lori Kinnear – literally, in the form of exquisite Tiffany-style stained glass lamps that Briggs has been handcrafting for the past 15 years.

Throughout the couple’s South Hill home, shards of color glow warmly in almost every room: From the gold and violet of a laburnum shade near the entry, to the rose motif dome hanging over the dining room table or the gold butterflies set against a blue honeycomb shade in a bedroom, each is a testament to Briggs’ attention to meticulous detail.

“It is not for people who like instant gratification,” the CEO of Spokane Valley Partners says of his intensive hobby. “It is a long, very precise process.”

Briggs’ love affair with stained glass began in 1991 when he took a class and discovered the medium appealed to his sense of order and design. He enrolled in a more challenging course led by Washington master glass artist Carol Conti, and some 18 stained-glass lamps later, Briggs is an accomplished craftsman in his own right.

Today Briggs is a member of Conti’s organization, the Association of Stained Glass Lamp Artists, a group that includes more than 700 members from 25 countries and 46 states. He has seen 11 of his creations appear in the group’s annual calendar.

Briggs, who also plays the bagpipes and indulges in long distance running when not working on stained glass, spends several hours each week in a well-lit basement room that he gutted and turned into a glass studio when he and Kinnear bought their South Hill brick Tudor in 2000.

A large light table fills one corner of his workspace, where he cuts patterns and scores pieces of colored glass in a process that can take anywhere from a couple of months to more than a year, depending on the size and intricacy of the lamp.

Many of Briggs’ pieces are Tiffany reproductions, though his body of work boasts a number of original designs, including a beautiful cone-shaped shade of grapes and vines that he calls Merlot.

Another lamp made from leftover glass and crafted into a tall, cylindrical shade with fish floating on a watery background is an experimental piece Briggs dubbed The Abyss.

Currently, Briggs is working on a large shade with a peacock motif that will comprise 784 pieces of glass.

“It will take me about 18 months” to complete, he says, noting that the intricate design includes a number of “inside cuts” and pieces that end in severe points that can be difficult to execute.

With so many beautiful lamps in his collection, Briggs says he has to store some pieces and rotate them seasonally throughout the house, including a domed shade with a poinsettia motif that makes an appearance during the holidays.

Although some of his fellow ASGLA members profit from their creations, Briggs says he could never sell his work.

“I give them to family sometimes,” he says, adding that a number of his pieces have gone to Kinnear’s relatives in the Seattle area.

“They bring a little joy into the world,” Briggs says. “I do it for the love of it.”

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