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Chemist creates beauty with stained glass
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Photo: Paul Colletti/pcolletti@qconline.com
Eric Van Hese stands beneath the stained-glass chandelier that hangs in the dining room of his Davenport home. It takes Mr. Van Hese hundreds of hours to complete the intricate colored pieces that fill his home.
DAVENPORT -- Eric Van Hese is a chemist by day and stained-glass artist by night.

By day, he's an environmental chemist at QC Analytical Services in LeClaire. Then he works late into the night on his stained-glass projects.

"I survive on very little sleep," Mr. Van Hese said with a laugh.

He's been doing stained glass for 23 years and said that, after working in a lab all day, "I come home to validate myself. "

Mr. Van Hese got hooked on making stained-glass items when he was young and he and his family moved into their Davenport home with very little furniture. During a trip to a lamp store, he fell in love with a Tiffany lamp he knew he could never afford, so he decided to make one like it himself.

He searched the country for top-grade stained glass because there wasn't enough locally and handpicked 260 sheets. He said that's enough to last a lifetime and he still has most of it.

Mr. Van Hese taught himself the art of stained glass and said his first project took about 250 hours.

"That's part of the problem with glass, it takes so much time," he said. "In the amount of time it would take me to make you a lamp, I could redo your kitchen."

Still, it's worth the time, he said. "It's just beautiful. The stuff that I do, if I don't make it, I'll never get to see it."

He does reproductions and original work, including windows and lamps, and much of it is displayed throughout his house. "I do a lot of repairs," he said. "I can usually bring things back to life."

"All the three-dimensional stuff, the things that aren't lamps, aren't windows, that's kind of an out-of-the-box thing as far as stained glass," he said pointing to a wall figure he made his daughter Allie for graduation.

Because the glass is so fragile, he said it's hard to show it off and enter art shows. Mr. Van Hese has displayed his pieces twice at the iWireless Center in Moline and is planning a display at the Figge Art Museum's Family Day.

He sends one piece a year to the Association of Stained Glass Lamp Artists to be considered for its annual calendar featuring the best pieces from stained-glass artists worldwide.

"People all around the world enter their stuff. I've been in this thing nine times," Mr. Van Hese said proudly, adding that only half of the winners are from the U.S.

One of the nine pieces was his masterpiece, a replica Tiffany lamp he made that hangs above his dining room table.

To make the replica lamp, he had the New York Historical Society take it out of storage so he could get better photographs.

For the most part, his work stays right where he makes it, displayed throughout his home, although he said he's running out of space.

To make stained-glass art, he draws the pattern and puts it on plastic. Next, he picks out the glass pieces, then traces shapes on the glass and cuts, grinds and washes the glass. Finally, he covers the pieces in copper tape before adding the lead so it all sticks together. Each step can take hours.

"It gets to be expensive," Mr. Van Hese said, adding that reproducing a Tiffany lamp can cost more than $1,000 before any glass is even cut.

While his prices vary, he said it's still much cheaper than buying an original. "How do you charge by the hour when you know it will take 100 (hours)?"

Mr. Van Hese said he has a dream of making a big window for a library, hospice, or anywhere that people could enjoy it.

"As far as a guy trying to make money, not a good idea," Mr. Van Hese said. "I do it because I love it. Every time I'm done, every time the sun comes up, the sun goes down, it will be different. That's what I love. Every time I do it, it doesn't matter what it is, it's different."

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