Married Artists Find Beauty in the Outdoors Working in Separate Mediums
March 15, 2024
The Art of Stained Glass from a Knitter’s Hand
June 6, 2024

Stunning Glasswork Reflects Artist’s Unique Design Skills

The kaleidoscope of colors when light passes through beveled glass fascinated Karen Caldwell as a child.

She was mesmerized by the effect for the first time after watching the 1960 film “Pollyanna.” Pollyanna is enchanted by the rainbows on the wall made by reflections of light through the prisms of a chandelier. 

An early job working for a firm that made Tiffany lamps distinguished by their global domes of stained glass further hooked Karen, who grew up comfortable with using her hands to create. She studied art, horticulture and landscape design in college, ultimately graduating from Rutgers University with a degree in Environmental Design.

The glass and the colors and the combinations that they evoke excited Karen to start her own business, Sunflower Glass Studio, in 1978. The studio, today located in rural Hunterdon County’s Delaware River Valley in New Jersey, is filled with her eclectic designs of varied size and scope. She is the designer and artisan; her husband, Geoff, is the craftsman, self-taught in hand beveling. They work as a team to design a piece that starts with Karen’s drawings, detailed and numbered to include hundreds or even thousands of glass pieces. Kevin handles the beveling of the glass, the cuts and construction. He also does all the restoration work of antique windows using Medieval glass painting techniques.

In the early years of the business, Karen’s focus was on beveled glass windows. “I created a whole product line using beveled glass,” she says. Slowly, Karen began incorporating architectural glass and fused glass, following the art principles she mastered over the years. 

Most of us understand stained glass. Beveled glass is an additional skill that requires taking a quarter inch of plate glass, grinding the edges and polishing it to be a form of clear glass that reflects light, creating a rainbow effect. Fused glass is kiln-formed glass that starts with glass powders and evolves after firing them in a kiln where temperatures reach 1,800 degrees. Adding fused glass to stained glass is atypical of most artists in the medium and is part of Karen’s signature style. All her designs are unique as well.

“It’s like a glass puzzle,” Karen says. “It’s very detail-oriented and time consuming. Sometimes it’s Zen meditation to calm down and look at the piece.”

About 15 years ago, Karen accepted a commission to create a stained glass crazy quilt. That has since evolved into a fused patchwork series that combines difficult and disparate glass techniques to create fine art glass panels. These themed pieces typically revolve around one main character and mix different mediums to create an environment.

They’re nothing short of stunning.

A walk through her studio also shows off beveled glass candle holders, coasters, napkin holders, picture frames, a collection of beveled glass boxes and miniature greenhouses. Her “postcards” are botanical windows — beveled picture frames that are lovely additions to a bookcase or end table. Ecotourists visit Sunflower Glass Studio regularly and for the last 30 years, Karen and Geoff host a Thanksgiving tour that attracts hundreds.

Karen has cut down exhibiting her work to approximately 10 shows a year and as of last year introduced Rose Squared Art shows to her schedule. Meet her and Geoff and browse their beautiful work at Rittenhouse Fine Craft Show (May 10-12) and Chase Center on the Riverfront (July 27-28).