Through stained glass

By Helena Rodriquez

People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks, nor when they work with stained glass. However, Amelia “Amy” Armenta recommends a good diamond-head grinder to cut through the translucent material.

Fortunately for Armenta, she’s never cut herself since she begin creating stained glass art six years ago, although she will admit to having broken some nails and a few pieces of glass along the way.

Armenta has a hard time keeping pieces of her stained glass work around her home in Ranchvale since she went from being an accountant to an artist. After years of working at the Cannon Air Force Base Exchange and the AAFES on base, Armenta retired. Following a short stint as a floral designer at the Ben Franklin store in Clovis, she decided to finish a bachelor of fine arts degree at Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, which she completed in 2004.

Now Armenta works as a part-time art teacher, teaching classes through Extended Learning at Eastern New Mexico University, and she creates colorful ornate, abstract and geometric works of stained glass at her home studio.

She tends to look at the world through stained glass now, saying, “I’m always looking at church windows and I’m always looking at faces and different objects to see how they are formed. I like seeing things in a new light and I try to show that in my art.”

Armenta’s stained glass often disappears quickly due to word of mouth. Her work has been sold to galleries in Santa Fe and has been on exhibit at various arts events in the area. She recently had to turn down a church’s request to do three 4-by-8 foot stained glass windows due to lack of space for such a huge project in her home studio. However, she continues to work on smaller projects and manages to hold on to a few prized pieces including a stained glass door featuring an African crested crane which won her a best of show ribbon at the 2005 Curry County Fair.

She also holds on to one of her not so prized works of art, her first attempt at stained glass, a tulip which she said she keeps as a reminder to her students of what not to do.

She stresses to her students to be creative and recalls how one student cleverly took an idea for a mission piece off of a potato chip bag. “This girl didn’t know how to draw, but she did a beautiful stained glass piece. You don’t have to know how to draw to do stained glass.”

Armenta became interested in stained glass when she saw a class being conducted on KENW-TV, the PBS TV station in Portales. That’s when she decided that was what she wanted to do. She did stained glass for her senior art project at ENMU because she wanted to do something different.

“I started cutting window glass just to get a feel for what to do and that’s what I have the students do in my ‘Once you start doing stained glass, you’re hooked.’ But I also tell them to start off with small projects that they can complete during the class.”

When Armenta set her mind on doing stained glass, she said her husband, Rodolfo, who is retired from Cannon, took her to an art store in Hobbs and told them to give her everything she needed to get started in stained glass art.

Armenta said doing stained glass art can get really expensive, particularly with the start-up costs, which is one reason why she often provides the tools for her students when she teaches classes. Her biggest expense these days, however, is time, which is what she uses to determine the cost of a particular piece. Although stained glass is a time-consuming art, she said she has already recouped her initial investment through the pieces she has sold.

“I had no intention of selling my work. I thought it was just going to be for my own personal use. I did some angels and sun catchers for my family. But then word started getting out,” Armenta said.

Word got out when she began displaying her work in downtown arts and crafts festivals in Clovis and at the Main Arteri in Clovis. She also has works on display inside Quay Hall at ENMU.

Armenta was a little upset when she didn’t win any awards in a state arts competition, however, one man told her that she did better than the ones who did win in that competition because she sold all of her stained glass pieces that day.
Armenta said her next project will be a Southwest stained glass pattern and noted that Southwest motifs are somewhat unusual in the stained glass medium.

In addition to stained glass, Armenta, a multi-talented artist, also does quilting, oil painting and sculpting. She and her husband Rodolfo are both natives of Tucson, Ariz. They have been married for 49 years and have three grown children.