Lydia Valenti
The Redmond Spokesman

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Laurel Werhane found her passion in the mid-1980s when she was drawn into a stained glass shop and discovered they offered classes.

Werhane had dabbled in art during college — jewelry making and leather work — but felt frustrated in her creativity because she didn’t have the drawing skills she thought were needed to be an artist.

Stained glass work gave her a creative outlet that didn’t require drawing because “you follow patterns,” she said.

After a couple of years of doing stained glass art, Werhane took another class at that shop — this time in fused glass. She says she “absolutely fell in love,” because there was more room for creativity.

“You weren’t confined to following those lines.”

Werhane loved the fluidity that fused glass offered, but around that time she started traveling around country for her career and the hobby faded into the back of her mind.

It wasn’t until her retirement in 2015 that she decided to pursue her passion for glass.

“So I bought a kiln for my retirement — my own retirement gift — and kind of started re-learning the process of fusing glass, because, of course, in 28 years a lot had changed,” she said.

Remembering a pet

Werhane and her husband settled in Central Oregon in 2001. When she retired, she set up a studio in their southwest Redmond home and started experimenting with techniques for fusing glass.

She also volunteered at the Humane Society and met many other animal lovers in the area, which led to her offering to make memorial keepsakes in glass for people who have lost pets and had them cremated.

There is a real need, she said, for something to help people keep their departed pets close. She makes fused glass pendants, as well as other items, with cremation ashes layered in the glass.

“Usually when a pet passes, there’s sorrow and this grieving process that people go through. And not everyone who is not really a pet lover really understands that, but having a memorial keepsake really helps them move through that grief and get past that,” Werhane said.

Werhane has had a lot of interest through word of mouth, and through an exhibit of her work — which also includes bowls, plates, and art pieces — at the Redmond Library through March. She also sells her work at holiday shows or for other special orders.

For the memorial keepsakes, she meets with people at her home — they bring photos and tell her stories about their pets — and they choose from a variety of dichroic glass colors and designs.

The dichroic glass is made with a special finish on top of either black of clear glass — “very glitzy,” Werhane said — and people often choose to put the ashes on the back of the pendant.

“It can be very private and you can decide to show it to someone if you want. But you’re still carrying them close to your heart,” Werhane said. “I’ve had one woman who said ‘I’ve been carrying around my dog’s ashes for three weeks and I can’t keep carrying this box around. I need something that I can just wear and keep next to me.’”

Werhane can also fuse cremation ashes in other pieces — such as a small remembrance plate for their dog’s tags or a candle holder where you see the ashes when the candle is lit.

She says it’s an emotional process for people, but she’s gets satisfaction out of helping them and seeing how happy it makes them.

Shelly Berkebile, of Bend, heard about Werhane’s work from a veterinary technician after her beloved pug, Duke, died unexpectedly.

She had looked at online options for what she could do with Duke’s ashes, but felt uncomfortable sending them away. “What if I didn’t get his ashes back?”

Berkebile met with Werhane and was impressed with both her skill and understanding.

Duke was more of a child to her than a dog, she said, which is something that Werhane understood.

“It astounded me, there’s so many ways you can celebrate and remember your loved one. She understands that this is very emotional and sentimental and not something to be taken lightly.” Berkebile said.

Werhane made three pendants for Berkebile.

“He was my whole world,” Berkebile said. “I definitely carry him with me. It’s nice to know he’s with me at all times.”

Jamie and Eric Torrence, formerly of Madras, were introduced to Werhane through a pamphlet that their dog groomer gave Jamie after their fox terrier Ted passed away.

Jamie says she can’t recommend Werhane enough because of the personal touch she gives the work, her understanding of the bond you can have with an animal and the chance to “make something beautiful out of grief.”

The couple had Werhane make a pendant, a small glass dish with Ted’s footprint, and a bowl that Eric plans to make into a lampshade.

One of the things that touched Jamie most was a painting of Ted that Werhane made for them as a gift.

“It’s because of our love for Ted that it really inspired her to go the extra mile and create such a beautiful gift for us. All the things she did were so above and beyond,” Jamie said.

Careful technique

The process of fusing glass is fairly simple, Werhane says, though working with ashes adds a layer of complexity. The ashes need to be very dry to avoid creating bubbles in the glass.

Werhane covers the dichroic glass with clear art glass on the front or back — with ashes between the glass — and then fires it in the kiln at about 1500 degrees.

The kiln requires careful technique, and, even then, it can deliver unexpected results, said Werhane, because glass becomes very fluid at 1,500 degrees and can move or even change color. Additionally, if the temperature goes up or down too fast the glass can shatter.

Once a pendant comes out of the kiln, Werhane uses a glass grinder to shape and smooth it and then puts it back in the kiln for a fire polish.

Werhane wants people to enjoy the piece they’ve ordered, so she will remake a piece until it is right and send the person photos to make sure.

“Sometimes they say “I love it!” But if I’m not happy with it, I’ll do it over,” she said.

Much of Werhane’s work on display at the library is from her personal experimentation with fused glass techniques.

Werhane shapes the glass pieces in the kiln using ceramic or metal molds and techniques called “draping” and “slumping” to create bowls, candle holders, and other pieces.

Some of her pieces are painted using glass powder with pigment mixed with clove oil or water, which is painted on the back of the glass and then fused in layers with additional glass. A painted piece might go into the kiln four times, she said.

Werhane uses photos or patterns to get an outline of the picture she wants to create. “It’s not all freehand,” she said, but at this point the pattern is only to help her “get where she wants to go.”

“A couple of years of using patterns to learn how to work with glass was OK, but after a while it was too confining,” she said. “I want to have more freedom and flow and that’s what fused glass gives.”

Her more recent experiments have been with window glass and greenhouse glass, which are both very different than art glass.

“That green tinted glass has just a fabulous texture to it — that’s become very popular at the shows,” she said. “People see it and say it looks antique, so I’m trying to do some more with that.”

Her next challenge, she said, is called “weaving glass” for wall hangings. Displaying her art has been challenging because many galleries or businesses only have wall space.

The library “has been such a nice venue,” she said, and she’s hoping to be able to show her work in other places — including on walls.

Weaving glass takes strips of glass which are shaped first in the kiln and then woven together to make it look like fabric before fusing it in the kiln again.

Werhane said it’s hard to focus on one technique.

“I want to do it all,” she said. “And then maybe figure out which one I’m best at and try to stick with it for a little while.”

— Reporter: 541-548-2185, lvalenti@redmondspokesman.com

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