21st CENTURY STAINED GLASS MAKERS

BY / Por Rubén Padrón Garriga PHOTOS / Fotos Néstor Martí

A business model with a varied portfolio of products and services that include the restoration, production and installation of stained glass windows and other smaller-format creations

Few people are aware that the old Santa Clara Convent in Old Havana was home to a project of young entrepreneurs who combine the centuries-old tradition of stained glass with innovative aesthetic and management trends. The project was headed by Adriana de la Nuez and Irena Martínez, graduates of the Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos Workshop School, and holders of degrees in Management and Preservation of Historical and Cultural Heritage, obtained from the San Gerónimo University, both of which are educational institutions run by the Office of the City Historian. While studying glass at the workshop school, they heard that the Office was supporting emerging proposals, so they submitted their business idea called Vitria. They worked for two years at the Puerto Carenas Construction Company, and after installing glass in many windows and doors, they created a cooperative in 2013, although they really began in 2014 when the Office provided them with a space in one of the wings of the old abbey.

Since then, they have developed a business model with a varied portfolio of products and services that include the restoration, production and installation of stained glass windows and other smaller-format creations. In the beginning, they had to focus on individual orders, since they did not have a place where to showcase and sell their pieces. While their headquarters allowed them to develop professionally, it lacked visibility for most of the public: “We focus on individual orders, usually for stained glass on doors and windows, or canopies. 

We suggest different designs that can be traditional or modern, abstract or figurative, but the final decision is always with the client. Many times they come here and say: ‘I want this image’; other people don’t even know what they want, but the tendency is for flowers and birds.”

A fledgling, unsubsidized project needs to follow the rules of the market, which is why it is difficult for them to create and maintain an articulated aesthetic line that will constitute the hallmark of these 21st-century stained glass makers. Furthermore, there is a misguided segment of the public who has a stereotype of stained glass that Adriana and Irena intend to break, but they do not always succeed: “For now, for profitability considerations, we cannot create if we do not have the possibility of selling the result. All that we can do with flexible clients is to try and put their ideas on the right track. Sometimes, however, we have to design very traditional flowers for a Modern Movement house. We use the Socratic method, we hatch ideas and sketch them by hand, we show our clients a working model, and if they agree, we process it in Photoshop and then make the stained glass. Before that, we check the space in which it will be installed, its colors and shapes, seeking to harmonize our product with the setting.”

They charge 300 CUCs (around 300 US dollars) per square meter, a price that can increase depending on the complexity of the order, the number of pieces that it requires, the colors and the painted details, among other contributing factors. In the art of making stained glass, the dimensions are not directly proportional to the work that needs to be done, and the greatest difficulty is determined by the shape and the number of pieces.

But Vitria is not limited to large or medium-sized multicolored stained glass. They diversify their products to include lamps, candle holders, necklaces, dream catchers, wall ornaments, table decorations, and more. They explore the multiple potentials of glass combined with metal, wood and other materials in an endless number of shapes and colors, making the best use of fragments that have been discarded during the creation or restoration of stained glass windows, along with other raw materials and seemingly useless objects. In addition to optimizing costs and diversifying products, this has allowed Adriana and Irena to ensure environmental sustainability under the well-known 3Rs Rule: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

Although Vitria is today a successful project, its journey has not been without material and bureaucratic challenges, as well as gender and age bias that Adriana and Irena have managed to overcome: “Sometimes you have to show authority.Because we are young and slender, many people say to us: ‘Are you going to carry that stained glass?’ or ‘I live on the third floor and you have to hang yourself from the roof’… They try to help you, but with the implied meaning of ‘poor little things, they can’t handle it.’ They look for the male figure, but getting to know us and saying ‘those girls can do anything’ helps break the taboo. During the restoration of the Palacio del Segundo Cabo, we worked all alone at six levels of scaffolding, installing the glass in the protocol room.”

Vitria’s imprint can be seen in the windows of private homes as well as in emblematic buildings, such as the Palacio del Segundo Cabo or the headquarters of the Alliance Française de Cuba on Prado Street. Now that they have a business place at 527 Aguiar St., between Teniente Rey and Amargura streets, they have gained new strength to continue managing heritage from a contemporary perspective and turning their ingenuity into stained glass.

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