- Associated Press - Monday, July 28, 2014

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (AP) - Don Zimmerman laughs and makes an admission.

“People really think I’m an artist, but I’m a bad artist,” he said. “Here’s the secret; I can follow patterns.”

But it seems he can do a little more than that.

After all, the self-styled bad artist, has turned out some remarkable work in an art form more commonly seen in church windows and in Renaissance Europe - stained glass.

And his hope is to pass that skill on to others the way it was passed down to him from his dad, Blaine.

Today, Zimmerman, who works for the Department of Defense as a training site program manager at the Battle Creek Air National Guard Base, has found solace and a purpose in what began as a hobby and has developed into something a little more.

He can thank his dad for that.

It started in 1988 when Blaine Zimmerman retired as principal at Monroe Middle School and he was seeking something to keep himself occupied.

“He just wanted to have a hobby,” Don Zimmerman said. “He tried macrame and then came across stained glass.”

His dad created stained glass for 15 years, specializing in lamps and sun-catchers before giving it up in 2004. That’s when his son picked it up at the not-quite-tender age of 38.

“He showed me the steps involved,” said Zimmerman, 48. “The cutting of the glass; the grinding it into shape; the copper foil; soldering it to bind it; putting the patina on it and then polishing it. I thought it was beautiful. I’ve always loved stained glass. My dad showed me what to do and he gave it up I took over his studio.”

He has become a student of the art as well, specifically by learning from Frank Bylo, who owns Peeper’s Stained Glass in Kalamazoo.

“I trusted what my dad told me was true,” he said. “But I wanted more information from someone who has been doing it for years and years.”

And now the student has become the teacher.

Zimmerman teaches stained glass art to a small group of fellow parishioners at Chapel Hill United Methodist Church and he will begin a second year of teaching the craft at the Lifelong Learning Program at Kellogg Community College.

For both classes, he uses a room in the lower level of the church as his workshop, with equipment - including soldering irons, grinders and, of course, glass - that came from unexpected donations from church members.

“I never even asked for donations,” he said. “It was very generous.”

And the results are there for anyone to see.

In the church’s front lobby hang three original stained glass pieces named Hope, Faith and Love produced by church members with guidance from Zimmerman. He works with his students to produce perhaps 10 items a semester that range from small window decorations to larger items that feature college logos.

The glass comes from local craft shops. Creating small items can take several hours.

But he believes he’s found a niche in the community.

“Folks last year in the class asked me if I was going to do the class again and I said ‘I don’t see why not,’ ” he said. “It was fun.”

He has also become a true lover of stained glass.

“Everywhere I go now I look for stained glass,” he said. “There’s really beautiful stained glass at Mackinac Island and in my brother’s seminary in Chicago. I notice stained glass on TV and movies.”

And when he sees photos of the remarkable stained glass in Medieval European cathedrals, he just shakes his head.

“How did they do it?” he asks.

He hopes to continue his education and teaching about stained glass though he’s not sure it will pass down to another generation.

His 12-year-old daughter Marlena helped put patina on some pieces earlier but, he said, “she hasn’t shown much interest since then.”

But he thinks others will and he’ll keep conducting classes as long as there are people willing to learn.

So plans are to hold classes at KCC on Thursdays starting in September and a class for church members on Tuesday nights during the winter.

“I’ve gotten 100 percent support from both KCC and Chapel Hill,” he said.

Zimmerman says he has produced more than 200 pieces over the years but has donated most of them.

“Where I’m good is donating,” he said with a laugh. “Maybe I am a bad artist.”

___

Information from: Battle Creek Enquirer, http://www.battlecreekenquirer.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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