There is something that seems to elevate our existence when we are in the presence of beauty. This is so true of the time I gratefully spent as a member of the Lakewood Arts Council’s (LAC) cooperative art gallery, and meeting the artists there. But the beauty on the canvasses, and in the sculptures and jewelry, while excellent, was outshone by the personalities of the artists themselves.
Leslie Anne Bitgood of Crazy Woman Glass is one of those artists. She displays her glassworks both at the LAC Art Gallery and in glass and jewelry shows around the country. I met Leslie while helping on the annual garage sale-fundraiser for LAC. She chipped in with fun and wit and made my day special. So I asked to meet her again. She invited me to her studio in Lakewood, another Denver suburb.
First step in meeting Leslie is meeting her family. Beyond a terrific husband who creates glassworks with Leslie, there are two cats, a bird and the studio dog, bear. Bear likes to make sure visitors feel welcome by jumping up for attention and a pat on his soft fur until Leslie says “No, Bear, down!” I felt welcome. Bear is a real cutie. He wandered off to let Leslie and I get down to the business of showing me her studio.
A veritable rainbow of colored glass, art on the walls and a collections of glassworks supplies were neatly stored within a couple of steps of each other. Leslie has three work stations where she holds classes for glassworks. It’s part of the life of an artist. And beyond the workstations, there are two kilns for keeping the glassworks at the correct temperature until completely cooled and ready to display. She rattled off a mind-boggling array of times and temperatures and glass hardness that showed this woman’s comfort in her craft. Very impressive.
But the impressiveness was expanded as Leslie showed me some of her and her husband’s works. The marbles were breathtaking, the fishes delightfully whimsical, and the beads for making jewelry shone and caught the light. Who knew that you could make your own beads? I always thought you went to a craft or bead store and picked up what you wanted. That beads were always mass-produced.
But Leslie makes them lovingly one by one. And so do other glassworks artists around the area. And that love goes into a bead project that is beyond-words generous. Each time Leslie makes beads, she sets aside one or two (or probably more) to donate to Beads of Courage, a program helping children with serious illness record their milestones in treatment.
“The ones that steal my heart are those with the very long strands of beads,” said Leslie. “Each time a child gets a treatment, they get to pick a bead for their string.” She shook her head in thought a moment. “They are so brave.”
Then she showed me how she works the glass for beads. She starts with a small rod of colored glass and a stick with a clay coating at one end. The coating will allow the eventual bead to slip off the rod and become a bead. She fires up her torch that mixes propane and oxygen into a fire too hot for me to remember more than that I’d keep away from the flame – several hundred degrees hot, and goes to work.
Almost instantly the glass turns to the golden orange you see in glassworks videos. We wear special glasses to protect our eyes from the glow and any bits that may fly out. I even covered my camera to get a better picture of the process.
Suddenly the glass is wound around the clay-tipped rod, and details are added with a confidence born of more than 30-years experience in bead making and other glassworks. Leslie shrugs in an ahh-it’s-nothing kind of attitude.
As the bead, a beautiful blue and white creation (inspired by her highness, Kate Middleton’s post-baby dress), is finished and put in a small kiln to properly cool, I returned to the trays of beads and jewelry.
There, I found an exquisite heart-shaped bead with a pink cancer ribbon on it. I asked if it was part of the Beads of Courage program.
“No,” said Leslie. “I make these for people who have loved ones conquering cancer. Or who conquered it.”
I turned the bead over. It normally sells for about $18. She has a complete range of glass art priced from $3 to $250 — something for everyone’s eye and budget.
“I have a friend who just celebrated five years of cancer-free living. I’d like to buy this,” I replied.
Leslie wouldn’t hear of it. She packaged it up for me, gave it to me for my friend, and added a hug on top.
Crazy woman! How would she make a profit? She just smiled. Maybe being generous, talented and kind isn’t crazy. It’s simply great.