Recycled dreamsPublished on February 26, 2008

  • Diane Proulx and a few of her art glass creations. Photo by Darren Brown

A half-dozen vivid stained-glass apparitions peer outward from a Westboro stoop, beckoning passersby with a platoon of glinting auras.

Their creator, Diane Proulx, smiles and holds open her front door. "I think sometimes I should have invented something a little easier to reproduce," she says, glancing at a shimmering rendition of cattails to her left, their greens and browns almost leaping from the glass.

Diane is a contemporary stained glass artist - she'll even tell you she invented the craft - and vibrant pieces of kiln-fired art lie everywhere throughout her home. Each piece forged in her basement studio, she says, is an original. "I always wanted to find a way to make art and recycle at the same time," explains Diane, sitting on a wooden stool beside a table of half-finished projects. Her family-run business, Out of Ruins, transform shards of glowing, recycled glass into modern masterpieces bound for walls, windows or even outdoors. "So windows destined for landfills became our canvas," continues the 52-year-old of the aged, sturdy, weather-beaten panes upon which she creates. "And that's one of the smartest things we've done."

Indeed, Diane has had a knack for smart ideas since piecing together her first window with her oldest son, Tyler, just a few years ago. After arriving early in the morning at her first-ever Art in the Park event in 2002, Diane brought along a baker's dozen hobby pieces with her. She was skeptical about her chances of selling many. "I thought, 'who's going to buy a crappy old window, with crappy old glass on it?'" Diane reflects with a smile. But later that morning, she'd sold out. At the next Strathcona event a year later, 18 more were sold.

It didn't take her and husband Lloyd long to realize they were on to something. "That night, there was something in my gut that said we should try doing this," she says. "And my husband and I were both on the same page - we knew we had something. It was a very magical moment."

Two years later, with her downstairs studio in full swing, glass is each day eagerly carved, hammered, stuck and fitted into intricate patterns woven amid various wooden window frames. Each piece is an original, though the studio churns out several slightly-differing versions of each design, depending on demand.

Diane scores deluxe, old-school windows from the stately houses of Old Ottawa South, the Glebe, and even as far away as Guelph, she explains. Pieces range from $80 (for 10 by 12 inches) to $1,500 (48 by 30), with most hovering around the $200 range - and that's for designs like Muskokan vistas, opera-singing chefs, flowing patchworks, red-brick buildings and even postmodern, square-shaped dogs. "If you look at the houses, all the bricks are individually cut and the black mortar, between the brick, is also glass," Diane says, adding they also produce flattened-bottle art and warm glass fusion designs. "We take a hammer and smash the glass to bits, and we get three different textures from that. "And we use it all," she adds, glancing around the studio. Though she sells around 300 pieces a year, these days Diane has reached her physical limit. Each piece is just too labour-intensive for mass production, she says. "I've reached the point where I can barely do it," she adds. Someone recently suggested she raise her prices, but Diane says that's not an option, either. "I don't want only rich people to be able to buy my stuff."

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