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Volume 26, Number 7 — July 2019

Ugly cabinets lead to stained glass artistry

Marilyn Peacock works on a church window at her studio in Abingdon, Va.
Marilyn Peacock works on a church window at her studio in Abingdon, Va.
Additional photos below »

Marilyn Peacock, Eileen Stoyanoff and Richard Donoho

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | January 29, 2014

A dozen cabinet doors with orange plastic inserts started Marilyn Peacock's more than 35-year career as a stained glass artist.

"I started in 1976. We were living in Marion and were transferred to California. The house we bought had about a dozen cabinet doors that had orange plastic inserts in them. I didn't want the orange plastic, and I knew I couldn't afford to have real stained glass made; so I took a class to learn how to make my own. I loved it, and all my other hobbies went away."

When they moved back to Marion, Peacock's goal was to find other people who were interested in stained glass, so she could share the cost of supplies. She was working at home, but then she exhibited at the Hungry Mother Art Festival and had a sign-up sheet for classes.

"About 24 people signed up. We were building a house at the time and living in an apartment. There was no way to hold a class in it, so I rented the top floor of a 100-year-old house on Main Street in Marion. The stairway was narrow, and it turned so some of the steps had that pie shape. The business just built and built and built. Then I finally got my dream studio with windows here in Abingdon. I have had windows with bars, black ceilings and no windows. This studio is nice and bright. It's a great place."

Peacock spends a great deal of her time creating church windows and large commissioned pieces.

"Sometimes people bring pictures to explain what they want. Sometimes they say "I've got a hole in the wall where I used to have an air conditioner,' but they don't know what they want to fill it. Then we go to the books and photo albums. They pretty quickly see something they're attracted to." They also discuss whether they want privacy or bright light shining through the piece.

Other times the client will bring a pillow or other piece of decoration, so she can match colors. "It's amazing. You just meet so many interesting people and do such unique pieces. I've done a train going over a trestle that's a copy of a photograph. I just do whatever people come in and want to have done." One of her upcoming projects has a Sherlock Holmes theme.

One unique project was for the Brooklyn, N.Y., fire department. "One of the firemen shortly after 9/11 found me and wanted me to do a picture of their fire hall. He sent me a photograph of it (it had been torn down and a new one put in its place). The piece was 5 feet by 5 feet. My husband built a nice cabinet with drawers and back lighting for it to go in. We delivered it. They were so nice. They had a special ceremony for it and gave us hats and shirts."

Another interesting and challenging project was a ceiling for The Old Custom House in Bristol, Tenn. The former post office has a ceiling designed and created by Peacock. The 24 panels have an elliptical-shaped ribbon around them, and Peacock admits that she made a few mistakes getting it right.

"I had two panels complete and was halfway through the third when I realized that my ribbon had a big dip in it." Plotting out the design was a challenge — and not just creatively it was cold. "We took the cars out of the garage, and it was the middle of winter. We tied tarps to trees to give us a little cover." The ceiling is about 30 feet long. In order to create the design, she and her husband laid out a long piece of paper, created the shape of the oval using a garden hose laid in the shape they wanted and then traced around it.

When Peacock completes large pieces, particularly for churches, they have to be installed. She laughs as she says, "My husband does that." What they do is transport it, sometimes in their pick-up. At other times she has a glass company move the pieces. "After you get it there, you keep it vertical. You leave the glass that is there, and you put a little stop around the inside that keeps the stained glass separate from the existing windows. That lets air flow through. So you set it in and put another stop to hold it in place. A stop is a piece of molding that goes top to bottom and all around, or you can use metal or clips." The existing glass is left in place.

She loves florals but says her favorite pieces are her peacocks because of her name. But she's also done antique cars, names, house numbers, grapes, masks and a carousel horse, among others.

"You have to be patient. I always say if someone likes to do jigsaw puzzles or make quilts, they will make great stained glassers. I like a more formal look. I'm not as out there as some people are. I do like to use faceted jewels. I have used slices of agates, and I made a tree once that was made out of copper flashing. I took a piece of copper and drew the outline (shadow of a bare tree) cut it out, textured it with a hammer and then built glass around it. That was fun." She also uses bevels, which are clear and create sparkle. A bevel's edges are ground off so that they will fit level with the other stained glass, but the pieces are thicker than stained glass.

When she began teaching, stained glass was increasing in popularity. "I used to have six to eight students at a time; now I usually have two to three. But part of that is I've been doing it so long, I've probably taught everyone."

Her classes are held Thursday nights and Saturdays. She offers a one-day beginner class and a dichroic glass pendant class. Dichroic glass has a metallic coat adhered to the glass. Once students take the beginner class, they can take a project class where they can work for four weeks in the studio whenever it's open.

"When you first start working with stained glass, you're kind of nervous, so the classes are really fun. Some people keep taking classes, and it becomes a social thing. It's fun to have students working in the studio. It's encouraging to both of us. We get ideas from each other. When they're working, they don't need much help. They'll ask a question, I'll show them, and they go back to work."

Because of the time that her commissions and her students take, she laughs, "I'm the only one on my street who doesn't have stained glass in the door."

The Glass Peacock is located at 266 West Main Street in Abingdon. For more information about classes, visit or call 276-628-3316.

- Eileen Stoyanoff

Topics: Art, Crafts

Close up of Marilyn Peacock painstakingly piecing together a portion of the window seen above.

"Tree" by Marilyn Peacock

Another stained glass creation by Marilyn Peacock