Made in Sarasota

By staff October 1, 2005

Brenda Alsum has a happy problem: People love her work so much that every time they move, she has to go to their old homes, take down her pieces, and reinstall them in the new home-a process that takes hours. But you can't blame her customers; leaving one of Alsum's glorious stained glass windows behind would be like leaving an important painting hanging on the wall of your old home.

Alsum has been creating glass masterpieces for 20 years, ever since her mother introduced her to the medium. Alsum was soon hooked and began making pieces for churches in Colorado, where she lived at the time. She and her husband, Jim, bought Roy's Glass and Mirror when they moved to Sarasota in 1984, and a year ago, she changed the name of the business to Masterworks.

Motorists idling at the red light at Lime Avenue and 12th Street may have noticed the striking stained glass that hangs in the window of Masterworks' storefront: fluid lines depicting two stylized women drawing water from a well. Inside the storefront is a clutch of tiny pieces, including mirrors, light fixtures and decorative odds and ends, as well as a couple of large and stunning pieces of glass art. One depicts deer grazing at the edge of a pool of cobalt water, observed by a medley of whimsical frogs perched on the lips of ferns, their jeweled eyes piercing through the riotous foliage. In one corner of the piece is a humorous touch: a spider, balancing on a thin black wire web that rears off the surface of the glass.

"People don't realize what stained glass does to a room," says Alsum, pointing to how sunlight catches the glass and flecks the floor with dancing color. "You have this stuff in a window, it creates a whole atmosphere."

Alsum has made double doors featuring a peacock on each door, glittering tails cascading to the floor. For a couple who wanted a piece inspired by the Chrysler Building for the doors of their wine cellar, Alsum created a gorgeous symmetrical piece in ochers, browns, golds and rusts, melded together with antique brass. In one house, she fashioned a series of six windows that parade majestically around the walls of a bathroom. A waterfall begins its descent in the first one and ripples down a slope through the subsequent panes. She even made a portrait of a couple's dogs for their bathroom.

Alsum also does etched and carved glass: lampshades; shower enclosures of carved ferns, leaves, fish and crustaceans; an entire carved glass railing for a loft that overlooks a foyer; and one particularly clever piece-an all glass, free-form coffee table, into which she carved and airbrushed a koi pond. She also makes all the glass for sculptor Jack Dowd's butlers.

Alsum doesn't advertise; she doesn't have time to take photographs of completed pieces or build a formal portfolio. But she's so sought-after that she's usually about eight weeks out on an order. Inside her studio, a Quonset hut, graph paper holds detailed sketches and measurements, and painstakingly cut swirls of glass await assembly on tables. A kaleidoscope of glowing pinks, blues, greens and oranges bursts from the glass samples that fill a huge rack against one wall. Amid the paraphernalia of her trade are a playpen and swing, where Alsum's two infant granddaughters play and watch their mothers, Alsum's daughters-in-law, work.

On the one day a week she doesn't work on glass, Alsum works on her yard. Nature is her inspiration and her love, and she says her yard is a virtual jungle of color and blooms. Though the custom work for clients is her bread and butter, Alsum's real interest is in creating the fun nature-based pieces that fill her home with glowing colorful mountains, animals and water.

Alsum's glass works average $100 per square foot. You can reach her at Masterworks, (941) 955-3825.

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