The Hudson Valley has always been a source of inspiration among artists, writers, and poets.
Need an example? Look no further than the famous Hudson River School of artists like Frederic Church or writers like Washington Irving. Locally, the magnificent Hudson River surrounded by a sea of trees and rolling hills has long served as a creative spark, and the region’s natural light is particularly beguiling.
Willow Deep Studio channels this illuminating light through ornate stained glass artwork and magnificent gold leaf signage just outside Rosendale in Ulster County.
“I read about how artists originally came to the region because the light here is very specific. The sunlight hits [objects] differently, and I definitely see that,” Brenna Chase, owner of Willow Deep Studio, recalls. The natural light in the Hudson Valley is a great source of inspiration for Chase, who specializes in stained glass and gold leaf signage.
Chase’s passion for history first exposed her to working with these nearly forgotten arts. After spending a decade working in the music industry, Chase needed a change from her conventional desk job.
She followed her interest in history and moved to Oregon to earn her certification in Historic Preservation and Restoration. While in Oregon, Chase split her time attending lessons on preservation and restoration, alongside hands-on training workshops. Chase did labor-intensive work like knocking and re-plastering walls, as well as restoring a building that dates back over 200 years.
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However, Chase was drawn to smaller restoration and preservation projects that required attention to intricate details.
“It turned out what I enjoyed best was the small detail work like stained glass and gold leaf,” she explains. “I never had done anything like that before — sit for a long time, working on tiny details.”
After Chase received her certification in Historic Preservation, she returned to New York City to develop her skills. For several years, she worked in a stained glass studio in Brooklyn and a gilding studio in Harlem.
Her time spent at Bard College introduced her to the vast beauty of the Hudson Valley, and she recalled the burgeoning arts community. With that creative atmosphere in mind, she relocated to Rosendale and started Willow Deep Studio in a barn behind her house.
Since opening her studio in Ulster County, Chase has traveled throughout the Hudson Valley to work on a variety of projects ranging in styles. She has an extensive repertoire, working in Art Deco, Edwardian, and Art Nouveau, producing pieces with classic styles or constructing out-of-the-box contemporary artwork.
Producing a stained glass piece begins with a design Chase has either developed on her own or worked with a customer to create. Chase draws the design by hand, forgoing the use of computer printouts, which have recently become more common among stained glass artists. Following the design stage, Chase cuts each piece of glass by hand and either wraps them individually in copper foil or frames them with lead. Finally, she solders the pieces.
“Whether it comes to different stained glass techniques or the steps involved, I don’t have a favorite,” Chase shares. “I love to mix it up.”
Chase also enjoys alternating between her stained glass work and gilding.
“Signage made by a person really adds a wonderful touch of beauty and detail,” she notes. “It’s very different and changes your entire storefront and space by having it done by hand.”
In the Hudson Valley, Chase notices a shift towards simple lines to accentuate the glass work.
“It seems people are leaning towards minimalism, with beautiful glass and simple lines,” she observes. “But I’m up for anything.”
Willow Deep Studio commissions all kinds of custom work, from the simple to the elaborate. For the 2019 Kingston Design Connection, Chase built a stained glass lamp, blending contemporary elements with the historic features of the era the lamp came from. For a customer, she fashioned a fire-breathing dragon in her unique style.
Frequently, Chase takes inspiration from the surrounding environment in the Hudson Valley. She observes the trees around her studio and dries wild ferns and flowers for her pieces.
“Nature is definitely very conducive for inspiring any type of creativity,” she says.
Chase also finds inspiration and camaraderie in the Hudson Valley arts community.
“Being an artist in New York City felt very different than being an artist here. It seems like everyone wants to help each other and connect here,” she enthuses.
Hudson Valleyites looking to try their hand at stained glass artwork can take beginner workshops. Willow Deep Studio’s most popular class has students start with their own designs.
“I love that I have never seen two people do the exact piece,” Chase shares. During the more extensive five-day workshop, students learn how to build a stained glass window from scratch.
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By leaning into Chase’s interest in stained glass and gold leaf, Willow Deep Studio taps into a niche craft that has remained relevant in architecture and art for centuries.
“Throughout history, people making things with their hands has been so important. People today are really appreciating that,” Chase says.
Willow Deep Studio
1904 Lucas Ave, Cottekill