‘Trying to pretty things up’ — Cancer survivor Deb Walker donates proceeds from her stained glass

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 19, 2014

After treatment for breast cancer, Deb Walker found that a support group was not for her. Yet she still wanted to give back to folks affected by the cancer.
“Cancer is an ugly disease,” says Deb, 64. “I’m just trying to pretty things up a bit.”
Indeed she has.
Deb is a stained-glass artist, and last year decided she wanted to raise money for the American Cancer Society by selling her work, and donating all the proceeds — her time and cost of materials, included.
Her goal was $1,000, and so far, she’s raised $600. Her signature piece is a circular cross pattern, 12 inches in diameter. The crosses are for sale for $100 each at the newly opened Fun Finds on Fulton. Another beautiful piece available there features a pattern of a quarter moon and star, which Deb loves to give as a baby shower gift. She says that four friends could go in together to purchase this whimsical piece.
“Fun Finds has graciously allowed me to show pieces,” Deb says, and they take no commission since all the money goes to charity. “To find a group willing to do that is so generous on their part.”
For the past 11 years, Deb has been taking stained-glass class at Rufty-Holmes Senior Center. The class is for all levels of artists, even beginners, and is taught by Mike Ziegler.
“Mike is a fantastic teacher,” Deb says. “Everybody shares ideas and patterns. We all have a blast. It just makes everybody glow. I know I do.”
“Deb’s work is beautiful,” Mike says. “She’s very precise. Her craftsmanship is terrific, and her color sense is also terrific.”
He says of her charity work, “She does it for the joy of doing it.”
At the moment, Deb is completing a series of three hydrangea pieces, each of which is topped by a butterfly. These will also be for sale at Fun Finds.
Deb works in a light-filled studio at her home on High Rock Lake she shares with husband, Marty. The room was originally designed as a studio.
“It said ‘Deb’s Room’ on the plans,” Deb says, although Marty has taken some space in the room — with her permission — for his woodcarving, mosaic and cross-stitch projects. Married 44 years, the couple has even collaborated on a couple of fascinating stained-glass and mosaic pieces.
“It’s nice to have the time to have a hobby when you’re retired,” Marty points out.
Deb admits that she gives away most of her work to family and friends, and emphasizes that she does not do commissioned work.
An introverted person by nature, she enjoys the solitude of studio work. This petite grandmother with salt-and-pepper hair is typically quiet and reserved — until she starts talking about stained glass.
“This is so much fun!” Deb says, looking over her latest project — the hydrangea with butterfly. “I get so excited.”
She’s a retired teacher and administrator, and it shows in her attitude.
“I’m telling people about things I love,” she says. “It brings me out.”
From her extensive glass inventory, she pulls a square of glass with hues of blues, pinks and purples in it.
“Is that a hydrangea or what?” she says.
The smaller the pieces are, the more challenging the artwork, Deb says. And that’s OK with her. A detail-oriented person, she thinks details lend character to each piece.
Stained-glass artists typically discard no piece of glass — no matter how small — and Deb is no different. She opens a cupboard that has two shelves filled with plastic bags of glass, all filed by color.
“I really don’t throw anything away,” she says.
Deb doesn’t particularly like to discuss the fact that she “ran into cancer,” as she terms it, at 41. She doesn’t discuss her treatment, but she does discuss the fact that she recovered and moved on. Her father died three years later of cancer, so she has an affinity for families who must cope with the disease.
Besides making stained-glass pieces, Deb also gardens and writes poetry.
“I have to do something to engage,” she notes. Since her recovery from cancer, she’s tackled one thing each year she’s been afraid of, which has included jumping out of an airplane. After having cancer, she says, she wanted to take charge of her life.
She and Marty love to travel. Seeing the gorgeous stained-glass windows in European cathedrals is what got her started in making her own pieces, she says. They’ve also traveled to Africa and the Galapagos Islands. They’re headed for Spain in the fall, China next year, and then perhaps Japan the year after that. Deb takes lots of pictures along the way, drawing inspiration for new ideas and patterns.
Most of all, she enjoys creating pieces from nature. Her home is filled with numerous examples — cardinals, hummingbirds, a peacock, a snowy owl, a tree frog, calla lilies.
Deb puts time, expertise and passion into each piece.
“I hope that whoever receives these pieces will wake up in the morning and enjoy the colors as much as I do,” she says.
Especially if that person is a cancer survivor.

For more information about Deb Walker’s stained-glass art, call Fun Finds on Fulton at 704-245-5939.
For more information about the stained-glass classes at Rufty-Holmes Senior Center, call 704-216-7714.
Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.