Doreen Mahlstedt – Stained Glass Artist Interview

Doreen & her workName
Doreen Mahlstedt

My website:
Follow Doreen on twitter: @glasswish

Where I am
Topeka, Indiana, located a few miles from Shipshewana Indiana – (I bet that helps!). I’m in the middle of beautiful Amish country – Northeast Indiana.

Tell us a little about you, what is your background & where do you come from?
I lived in Colorado until the ripe old age of 4 months, then Texas, Ohio, Jamaica West Indies, Florida, Indiana, Chicago – back to Indiana. (No, I’m not running from the law.) I’ve loved and ridden horses all of my life and have an appreciation of all equine disciplines.

Equine Window

When did you first realize art was your calling?
Probably when my little childhood friends wanted me to draw horses for them, and they nicknamed me “horse” and I considered it the ultimate compliment! I won a few goofy “awards” in school, did some dabbling in clay, oil, watercolor and landed a 25 year career in technical illustration for Goodyear/Dometic/Electrolux. As far as my art, I was never satisfied with my work, and I can’t say I really enjoyed the experience.

It was frustrating to love the flowing lines of the horse, and yet fail miserably to capture even a small part of their beauty. Then I “discovered” glass. I am truly enthralled with the properties of glass – I am truly enthralled with the beauty of the horse!

And I love working within the limitations of glass. Trying to capture the personality of the horse by using an unyielding piece of glass is challenging! It has focused my mind on seeing the overall impression of grace and elegance.

Rough Cut

Your art is such a unique artistic medium, can you tell us about your stained glass process?
I use one of two techniques, depending upon size and function. Both techniques start out with a pattern I’ve sketched and translated to Adobe illustrator. The pattern is then printed and cut into pieces, allowing for the thickness of the lead or foil. Glass is selected and hand-cut (with cut hands usually!). Next, the glass pieces are laid on the pattern (called a cartoon) to see where adjustments need to be made which usually involve using a glass grinder. In both cases, the cartoon will be fixed to a board.

Copper Foil

If constructing a COPPER FOIL panel (a technique used in Tiffany Lamps), each piece of glass will be wrapped in copper foil tape along the edges and then fitted together on the cartoon fluxed and soldered along all of the copper foil on both sides of the panel. Usually, I’ll add a zinc border and patina, solder on hooks if needed. Finally the panel will be cleaned and polished.

Lead Came

If using the LEAD CAME technique, I place two strips of the zinc border on the lower left side of the cartoon, and start “building” the piece from the lower left corner – adding lead came to each piece and fitting the pieces together. Holding each section in place with horseshoe nails.

Whiting Powder

When constructed, and with the other two sides of zinc added, the intersections will be soldered. Now the messy part – a tinted type of window cement will be spread over the piece and worked under the lead with a brush, then a “whiting” powder will be added to help the cement dry. Then, using a fid, or sharp wooden stick – all of the intersections are cleaned. The panel is rubbed with a soft scrub brush to give it a rich dark polished look. That’s about it!

Is there a breed you enjoy capturing the most?
The Arabian and Spanish/Andalusian breeds are breathtaking! I should also mention hunter/jumpers are my passion, well – come to think about it, my heart is beating a little faster thinking about how the Thoroughbred looks prancing up to the starting gates…. to answer your question, “No – I love them all”.

Equine Windows

Who are your main influences?
Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches of horses. I studied them and asked “what makes them so full of energy?”
Robert Vavra, Equine photographer
Robert Oddy, Master of Stained Glass

Do you (or did you) have an animal that is the muse behind your work?
When I was a little girl I read a book, “Silver Birch” or some similar title. All I remember is the image it left burned into my mind: a little girl standing among some trees, looking toward a field. She’s there, waiting for this wild, beautiful white stallion to come galloping up to her for their secret rendezvous – mane and tail flowing, neck arched. Who knows what that book was really about, but I’m left with the image that touched my heart. (Are all horse people so corny?)


Do you have any secret rituals you do to help you get in the zone for your art?
I pray – for inspiration, and ability. I remember the scripture verse “Whatever you do …. do all unto the glory of God”. 1 Corinthians 10:31. And I thank Him for creating the horse for us to enjoy!

What effect do you think the Internet will have on art in general?
It is a wonderful place to find inspiration – and a great instructional tool. It has inspired and raised my sights! There are so many talented people that I never would have known existed.

Doreen's personal favorite

Which one is your personal favorite piece?
My sentimental favorite is a window I have installed in a skylight in my home. You see, about ten years ago, I decided to learn the art of stained glass. I lived in Oak Park, IL. at the time – the epicenter of stained glass art/history. I took a class – and the instructor basically told the class that we would never be any good because we didn’t start soon enough. I made an ugly little 12 in. square beginner piece and became discouraged and gave up. About three years later, I went into the same shop to sign up for a mosaics class – and the shop had changed hands. I visited with the two new owners, and they encouraged me to sign up for a class. I told them I wanted to design a large window, where the horses fade into the background under low light, then when backlit – the horses would “pop” out.

I asked if this was possible for a beginner. They said YES, and that they would work with me through the process until the window was completed. They are extremely talented and generous with their knowledge, and I am forever greatful to Cec and Tonya and the unselfish example they have set! If you are in the Forest Park, Illinois area – stop in and see them at Two Fish Art Glass.

Doreen's work

What else are you passionate about?
God, Family – sports, horses, kayaking, golf. (Hopefully, I keep them it THAT ORDER).

Working on anything new?
Yes, I am working on an abstract, full frontal view of a horse. I’ve started and re-started it for 6 months. It’s quite a challenge for me. I don’t want to get too detailed, and overwork it. I want to capture the essence of movement – a minimalist approach. I’ve also put a “contest” on my website asking for photos or drawings!

Equine Window

More to Come

Thanks to Doreen for answering the interview and sharing the process behind her work. Be sure to check out her art website periodically for updates about her latest works.

Also stay tuned for more interviews with horse artists and photographers.
Are you a horse artist or do you know an equine artist you’d like to see featured? Add your name and website in the comments below or drop me a note to get involved.

4 Comments on “Doreen Mahlstedt – Stained Glass Artist Interview

  1. Joan Mickelson

    Hi Doreen! You do beautiful work! My daughter wants stained glass inserts of horses in two of her new kitchen cabinets. Could you give me a very general ball park figure – or range – for how much this would cost? I do not have the dimensions right now but probably approximately 36″ high and 12″ wide. Thanks.

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