The Appendix interviewed medical student and artist Abby Walling on her process of making stained glass art.
Q: When/how did you get into creating stained glass?
A: I took a stained glass class my freshman year at West High School. It quickly became a long-term hobby once I realized how much family and friends liked receiving stained glass presents.
Q: What does your creation process look like?
A: I start by receiving a specific request for a piece from a customer (usually family or a friend) who might have a general idea of what they would like. For example, if someone wanted a bird piece, I would make several sketches of birds and have them choose their favorite. I print off the sketch, cut out each piece, and glue it on the associated color of glass. I then run a glass cutter along the glass (like a mini pizza cutter), and use a glass grinder to smooth out the edges. After cleaning each piece, I cover the edges in copper foil. Next, I use a soldering iron to melt solder, which melds the pieces together wherever the copper foil is sticking. Lastly, I frame the completed piece with zinc came (connecting the frame edges with solder) and solder a key ring so the piece can be hung on a window with a suction cup.
Q: How do you think your art reflects in your daily life?
A: Stained glass has helped me become more of a visual learner. I’ve started understanding things I’m studying (like a disease or drug) as a large puzzle or picture with many difference pieces that fit together. Sketchy Medical has really helped me tune into this type of learning!
Q: What are you working on right now?
A: I opened a business on Etsy as soon as quarantine started. It became a full-time commitment; I was creating about two pieces a week, designing the website, and advertising the business. Unfortunately, I deactivated the business once school started again to focus on studying. In the future, I may start planning small pieces for friends’ birthdays that I can make during school breaks.
Q: Who/what is your inspiration?
A: I have always admired the stained glass in churches and cathedrals around the world. It is truly inspiring to think about the years it would take to create a detailed, full-window piece. I have always hoped to take a month off to create a simple custom-sized window once I own a house.
Q: What would you like people to know about your art?
A: I would like people to know how much time and effort I put into every piece I make. The whole process is like drawing a puzzle, then creating each piece, then putting the pieces together.
Q: Can you tell us about any intersections between your art and the health sciences?
A: My love for stained glass was actually the main reason I wanted to become a surgeon. Practicing this precise art for 10 years has helped me work on my skills in attention to detail and patience. I hope to transfer these skills to one of the most detailed procedural subspecialties, ophthalmology, and help improve people’s vision enough to truly appreciate the beauty in the world.
Q: How has creating your art changed you as a person?
A: I definitely have a greater appreciation of art, small businesses, and advertising. I learned a lot from running my own business, especially how stressful and frustrating it would be to depend on that business for my living. I also like to think that I translate the attention to detail from making stained glass into my studies. While learning, I try to focus on each detail of a disease or drug before looking at the concept as a whole. In this way, I’m better able to understand how everything fits together.
About The Creator
Abby Walling is a second year medical student at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine. These are some of her favorite pieces.