“A Personal Rainbow,” New Era, Aug. 1981, 36
A Personal Rainbow
Allan West might best be described as unassuming. He’s quiet, 16 years old, and secretary of the Young Men and of the priests quorum in the Chevy Chase Ward, Washington D.C. Stake. But Allan is also an artisan, a designer, a craftsman whose skilled hands turn clay into pottery and ceramics and strips of lead and pieces of stained glass into beautifully designed and painstakingly constructed windows.
It’s not that Allan is at the stage he would like to be at—not yet. His work with ceramics is, admittedly, still a hobby, and he’s only made half a dozen or so windows. But he is a young man who loves art, and he has dreams of refining his talents. He also has the sort of determination to improve that guides him to spend hours every day in his basement workshop. There his potter’s wheel spins, his light board shines through patterns as he trims a scarlet-colored pane of glass, and he carefully monitors humidity in a drying cabinet lined with vases, jars, and mugs.
Perhaps Allan’s excitement about art shows itself best when he tries to describe the windows he has made:
“It’s one of only a few art forms that is seen with light coming through it instead of reflecting off of it. That sort of gives the stained glass window some life of its own. Other artwork often has to be seen in the right kind of light for the best effect.
“That’s why I don’t use a person’s face or a scene of some kind when I make my designs. If you use pictures like that as a model, you can wake up in the morning and you’ll see the same thing you saw at night. It doesn’t really change what you see or what you think when you see it.
“But when it’s symbolic, as my windows are for me, they might be just a design one day, and then a whole new mood might register in them the next. The light makes the mood change a lot. Whatever you’re thinking that day will affect what the colors mean to you right then. That’s one of the things I enjoy about stained glass.”
Allan’s mother’s oil paintings hang on walls of the living room. “The atmosphere in my family has always been one of appreciating art,” Allan says. That, coupled with a “fun art teacher” in elementary school who helped Allan prepare a motion picture animated with figures cut from construction paper, fostered an appreciation for creativity. “I’ve been interested in art ever since,” he says.
As for stained glass, although he actually started making it only about two years ago, Allan has been admiring it since childhood. The windows of the National Cathedral in Washington have been a long-time source of inspiration. So have the older homes in Georgetown, the residential section just north of the nation’s capital. “A lot of them are classical homes, and the stained glass has been designed as part of the building. It fits the architecture,” Allan explains. “I like the classical style in windows more than the modern designs, anyway.”
Another motivation came when the ward sponsored a program called “Something Great in ’78,” and Allan decided to make a stained glass window as his “Something Great” project. (Each ward member was to choose a personal project to be accomplished during the year.) “We had a big dinner and everyone displayed their projects. My window was one of the displays,” he says. Now the window hangs in his room, filtering the sunlight as it enters.
And what a room! On an antique leather trunk on the floor, a plant, a candlestick, handmade cups, and carefully decorated vases stand side by side. There’s even a pig with wire rim glasses made from stained glass window solder! An old desk rests against the wall, guarded by a ceramic matron. In the closet is a fountain with running water (controlled by a pushbutton panel) that Allan made himself, and one of the stained glass windows, mounted on a frame so a light bulb could be placed behind it.
Allan’s interest in ceramics also developed at a young age. “My friend’s mother works in ceramics, and she was at one of the elementary school fairs throwing some pots. She let me try it and said, ‘This is fantastic! You really work well with your hands.’ She was so excited that I started taking lessons from her in her garage. I’ve been at it off and on since then.
“I’ve only entered one art contest,” Allan says, “because I don’t think of art as being competitive—it’s more a self-expression.” What he doesn’t tell you without a lot of coaxing is that as a junior high school student in a high school contest he won an honorable mention. The prize was for ceramics.
Allan has used his talents as a means of serving others, too. He often makes gifts for friends or relatives, and he helps teach ceramics during summer school. He also taught a one-day class in stained glass window making for a student government activity. He obviously enjoys helping others learn to do what he already knows well.
“I’ve practiced and worked a long time,” he admits. “I think it’s sad when somebody won’t share his methods and talents. I would like to do all I can to help people. They come up and say, ‘That’s beautiful. I’ve always liked it.’ And I reply that I’d love to show them how to do it if they really want to learn. Another sad thing is that people say they want to know how to do something, but then they’re not willing to make the effort to learn how. It does involve time and effort to become competent.”
Allan says he is impressed by how well his two artistic interests have complemented each other. “There are two theories about the origin of glass. One states that it was first developed when artisans were working to create a glaze for clay pots. The other theory is that people who were lighting bonfires on a beach melted the sand. But it was in one of those ways that glass was discovered.
“It turns out that the formula for ceramics and the formula for glass generally call for the same materials, but the amounts of the different components vary.”
So Allan West leads a busy life. He’s active in his Church work and helpful to his family. He works hard in school and works hard on his art. That’s the sort of activity that breeds dreams for the future, and he has plenty of those: a mission, college, a commission to do a full-size stained glass window, a visit to see the windows in the Chartres (France) Cathedral.
But for now, Allan is, as he describes himself, “an average student with a greater than average appetite for art.” It’s an appetite that has made him aware and sensitive, and it has filled his world with a rainbow of light.