Wearing his ever-present knit cap, Barney Zeitz is bent over a large table, monk-like, his dark eyes moving quickly as he assembles pieces of stained glass for a church window renovation project. There is a barrel of the old lead he is replacing on the floor next to him. Parts of unfinished sculpture, shiny amorphous pieces of stainless steel, surround him.
Barney Zeitz has the look of one who is in constant motion, as he is when working, particularly when he is talking about his work. He is opening his house and studio to the public this Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 4 and 5, from 4 to 8 pm to celebrate the 40 years he has worked as an artist, drawing and working in glass and metal.
A native of Fall River, he has been living on Martha’s Vineyard since 1971, about the time he began working with stained glass. He had to learn to fashion metal as part of the glasswork he does. He now works in wood, iron, and stainless steel, as well as glass.
His work is sometimes hard and heavy. He works with grinders and torches, soldering irons, and large hammers and welding equipment.
Part of his studio resembles a blacksmith’s shop from a couple of centuries ago, particularly when his thickly brogued, heavily bearded Irish assistant, Michael Craughwell, is forging giant swords inspired by video games in the back room. The swords are Mr. Craughwell’s personal work.
Some of Mr. Zeitz’s work is made in an oven hot enough to melt glass. He prefers a temperature setting of 1,492 degrees F. Little of what he does is without a considerable amount of thought and, when appropriate, a little humor. His fused glasswork and his mold-formed glass pieces are made in the oven.
Mr. Zeitz has had many public commissions, including pieces for religious spaces, libraries, hospitals, and universities. His work includes a piece in the Wang Center of Performing Arts in Boston, the Vietnam Era Memorial on Martha’s Vineyard, the Rhode Island Holocaust Memorial Museum, and the Immigrant Memorial at Plymouth Rock.
Much of his work is done on commission and, because many of his pieces are large and heavy, it’s not always easy to find his work in galleries. He does have smaller pieces at both the Field and North Water galleries on the Vineyard, however.
His house is one of his major art projects. Practically every nook and cranny are made of something he has designed: windows and doors, hinges and lighting. To take it all in requires the same type of energy that a stroll through an old street in Florence demands. There is art everywhere and it is hard to ignore any of it.
There are torchieres and desk lamps made of steel and fused stained glass, medieval-looking chandeliers and windows of stained glass, iron-framed door jams and doors with his own custom hinges and stained glass panels, wood-framed panels and doors with original drawings resembling Chinese screens, and sconces of molded glass and walls of glass. He said he is able and willing to remake any of the parts on commission.
Some of his more interesting creations can be seen in photo books of his work. One example is a stainless steel tree that resembles a craggy, wind-swept cedar that is a working outdoor shower.
His sculpting is labor intensive. The larger pieces can take weeks or months of welding, grinding, and polishing. His work in glass runs the gamut from fused and leaded stained glass windows to painted stained glass and molded pieces. One of his biggest sellers is a glass centerpiece 22 inches long. It is made of molded glass in a variety of colors, with a forged and welded steel and bronze base.
Mr. Zeitz has become the go-to guy on the Island for stained glass repair. He has been designing, constructing, and installing stained glass windows, panels, and folding screens since he began his work as an artist.
He is currently restoring stained glass windows in St. Andrew’s Church in Edgartown. He is finishing work on the Vineyard Haven First Baptist Church windows, a four-year project. The Stone Church (Christ United Methodist), also in Vineyard Haven, has a large window that he is about to begin restoring and he is working on the windows in the Trinity United Methodist Church in the Campgrounds.
Mr. Zeitz said he thinks that stained glass windows in churches are an important part of the community’s heritage, and he enjoys being a part of the preservation work. But his real love, next to his family, is his art.
Barney Zeitz’s 40th Anniversary Open Studio, Saturday and Sunday, August 4 and 5, 4 to 8 pm. Showing new glass, sculpture, drawings and four decades of art. 67 Deer Hill Road, Vineyard Haven. For more information go to bzeitz.com.