All summer and throughout September, artist Barney Zeitz hosts a weekly open studio on Wednesdays from 4 to 6 pm. I make a point of stopping by annually. I love walking past the only outdoor table and chairs Zeitz ever made, then past one of his large freestanding birds, wings spread, before entering the magic of his overstuffed studio. I can’t help but notice things I’ve never noticed before. On this visit my eye wanders to a steel support that hints of Native American influence. Yes, Zeitz tells me, he made it when he expanded his studio from a lean-to to a full barn, connecting the structures and adding his own homemade support, something else he says he’d never make again.
Two stained glass windows made for the church in Flieden, Germany, honoring their past as a synagogue and their present as a church, hang in the large front studio window with afternoon sunlight dappling through. A third recently finished window for Flieden hangs inside the studio. Zeitz has completed four of the six windows thus far. The last word of “Aaron’s Priestly Prayer,” also known as “The Priestly Blessing,” peace or shalom, is visible in Hebrew. One side of the church will feature windows in German and the opposite side will feature windows in Hebrew; all the writing is from “Aaron’s Priestly Prayer.”
At this point all four windows Zeitz has finished are still in his studio, as the church in Flieden begins a renovation project to be completed prior to the windows being installed. Zeitz employs different techniques in different windows. He says, “Instead of soft fused glass, it will still be fused glass, but in sections, like what’s up at the Yoga Barn [which has a window he created], where it’s glued, laminated with epoxy, and the edges show this white light. In other words, it’s going to be soft and more optically pure.” It will be another year before the windows make their way to Germany.
One wall is arranged with small hanging angels Zeitz created as a fundraiser, favorite affordable works that literally fly off the wall as fast as he can make them, though he says he tires of making them.
Zeitz is excited about his newest project, about native people, for the City Hall in his hometown of Fall River. He was invited by a Fall River city councilman to present his work to the mayor and other councilmen. Zeitz drove there “dragging [his] owl” and brought it to the mayor’s office, where “all these 70-year-olds were in the room, and they all turned around and said, ‘Good morning, Mr. Mayor.’ I almost guffawed when this kid [now 25 years old], who could be my grandson, walked into the room.”
Zeitz shared photos of his Immigrant Memorial, commissioned for the town of Plymouth in Brewster Gardens, across from Plymouth Rock. He employed writing from a Harvard Divinity student at the base of the sculpture by cutting the letters through the stainless steel plate. He welded backing plates, then filled the void with silicon bronze with the TIG welder, being careful not to overheat the edges. He then ground and polished the lettering to an even surface, and applied patina to darken the bronze. This lettering has the same hand-hewn quality as the rest of the welded sculpture. They loved it, and gave him the go-ahead.
Zeitz’s idea for Fall River stems from it being a “city of immigrants,” when the councilman pointed out to him, “Natives are really important here,” Zeitz said, “I grew up here, and didn’t know anything about Native Americans here.” He continued, “King Philip’s War started in Mount Hope, just a few miles away. I’m reading ‘Mayflower’ by [Nathaniel] Philbrick, and it’s making me think about native people, maybe making a connection with the Vineyard and the Wampanoags here. The book talks about the Vineyard, Nantucket, the whole Cape, all the way out to Western Massachusetts. We’re a big community. So if I could tie it all together, it would be great. You’ve got native people, immigrants, refugees, and slaves [who need to be represented.]”
Stopping by his studio, you will learn all about the variety of techniques employed in the different Flieden windows, as well as so many new things about metal and glass artist Barney Zeitz, his process, work, and interests.
Barney Zeitz’s studio is open every Wednesday through Sept. 26, from 4 to 6 pm, 67 Deer Hill Rd., Vineyard Haven. For more information, call 508-560-0116.