ORANGEVILLE and GRAND VALLEY
ARTIST, TEACHER, GENTLEMAN
A stained glass window is not just a dazzling way to honour sunlight, but a way to own something made in the same way it was made centuries ago: glass, paint, lead and love. That’s the way Bill Adler does it, and the soft-spoken artist must be doing something right because after decades doing it he’s busier than ever. Which leaves him less and less time for being in the Headwaters landscapes that find their way into his work, burned into the glass forever. Next time you’re touring Headwaters, pay extra attention to our churches: chances are very good that the sparkling stained glass windows that we think were always there were actually designed, made and even installed by this true Orangeville master.
I look at all the courses you give here, and at your past, and realize that you’ve been a teacher even longer than a stained glass artist.
That’s true. But I didn’t plan to become a teacher.
Well, I attended the Ontario College of Art, where I studied painting and drawing. I then spent a year in a studio… and I sold all of one piece.
And you needed to, uh, eat.
Every now and then. So I got a masters in psychology at the University of Guelph, taught social services, then finally got a teaching certificate and landed a job teaching high school art in Shelburme.
So the stained glass wasn’t an early love?
What happened was, I was asked to teach a night school class, and the department head suggested stained glass. It wasn’t what I planned on doing, I planned on painting, but you see, glass becomes a passion…
Why is that?
That moment you put the colours together properly, they almost vibrate. I do a lot of landscapes, and what draws me is the ability to use lots of different colours, the ambers and the reds, the fall colours, so very attractive.
Much like up here.
Absolutely. I used to do a lot of sketching and drawing and Headwaters is ideal for that.
Most people probably think you’ve been here forever, given your landscapes, how they capture Headwaters’ pure, rugged beauty. But…
Yes, I’m a Winnipeger. My parents moved to Toronto, and I was too young to object.
Now your work is all over.
Most of it is in private homes, and of course lots of churches.
Good grief! Dozens of them in the area.
And you do it all?
Yes, the art, the execution, the installation. I’m up on the ladder.
Is it your vision? Is it the customer’s?
The vast majority is commissions, and it’s really done together with the customers, as they have to live with the finished product forever. I do the pieces, there’s also Catherine who works with me, a very talented glassblower, she’ll do the design work and execution as well. And my son will, too. He’s in the Grand Valley shop. He’s also an OCA graduate.
We’ll get out to a client’s home, measure the opening, create maybe three to six designs based on a particular theme that they like, select a theme, show them the kind of glass we plan on using, then build it and install it. It’s a process.
And they get the real thing.
I still paint on glass and fire it, the traditional method of working stained glass, not just assembling pieces of glass but actually decorating each piece, like you see in church windows.
The glass comes coloured or clear, and we can can modify how much light comes through it, and create images on the glass that get burned into the glass and become completely permanent. And we still use lead for assembly, the original way. That’s a 1000-year old technique.
So in this shop in Orangeville, 1000-year old art being done. But outside, huge changes in Headwaters.
Oh yes. When we moved to Orangeville, there was one stop light in town.