Key to success is good service

Jessup store caters to stained-glass artists, new and old

Business Profile The Glass Key

November 08, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

Amy Koh of Columbia has been visiting the Glass Key on a regular basis for the past month, since she started taking a stained-glass class at Columbia Arts Center.

At the Glass Key, a seven-year-old store in Jessup, she can buy the materials she needs and get expert advice from owner Donna Darcy, she said.

"Donna has been super," said Koh, as she browsed through the store, looking for materials for her next stained-glass project.

"She's been really helpful, talking to me about the different kinds of glass and helping me make selections," Koh added.

As she made her purchases, Koh peppered Darcy with questions: Should she invest in a grinder? What brand of soldering iron is best?

Darcy told her that a grinder costs anywhere from $82 to $200, and that a soldering iron, which runs about $100, is a good investment for someone who plans to continue with stained glass.

Darcy, who lives in Elkridge, became interested in stained glass when her two children were young. After working 18-hour days in the warehousing and transportation business, she had stopped for health reasons and to raise her family. Still, she was antsy.

"I had to find a hobby, and stained glass was my hobby," she said. "I was just intrigued by it."

There are a lot of components that go into stained glass. She likes the lack of structure and the fact that projects can be in two dimensions or three.

"You're only limited by your imagination," she said.

Darcy purchased supplies at Meredith Stained Glass in Laurel, and before long was working there.

The store then moved to Silver Spring, and after commuting for 18 months, she decided to open her own place. The store is named for a Dashiell Hammett novel, she said.

The Glass Key also offers instruction, taught by Darcy and other artists. The store's basic six-week beginner class meets for two hours one evening a week, and it takes students through the process of creating a piece of stained- glass artwork, from learning how to cut the sheets of glass to working with a pattern to soldering the pieces together. More advanced artists can work without a pattern, Darcy said.

The cost for the beginner class is $100, but most customers also buy a supply kit at the same time.

The total cost for supplies and the class is usually $300 to $350, Darcy said, but once they have purchased the supply kit, aspiring artists can continue to create on their own.

The Glass Key also offers classes on ornament blowing, bead-making, lamp-making and a new technique called fusing, which calls for melting the glass in a kiln. The classes generally take about six students at a time, Darcy said.

The sprawling store has work tables toward the back, where the classes are held. The shelves are stocked with books and patterns, as well as items made from stained glass, including lamp shades and holiday ornaments.

The front window is filled with the work of customers, many of whom are hoping to sell the work on consignment, in part to fund their hobby. For the first time this year, the Glass Key is holding a craft fair from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. It will give customers a chance to show off and sell their work, Darcy said.

Some customers are very knowledgeable, and others are just starting out, said Darcy. She is happy to help them all.

Darcy does commission work on occasion, but says she would rather teach customers how to create artwork themselves.

Still, the assignments are about the only time she gets to create her own stained-glass pieces. The rest of the time, she is too busy running the store.

The Glass Key is at 8610 Washington Blvd., No. 116, Jessup. 301-483-6066.

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