Craftsman With a Capital C

July 28, 2002|GINNY CHIEN


For glass artist Brian McNally, ‘Craftsman’ is a proper noun. For the past 30 years, the Santa Barbara resident has been creating decorative pieces that faithfully adhere to the Arts and Crafts movement’s fundamental principles of high-quality workmanship and solid design.

‘There’s a look to Craftsman-style glass that just calls to you,’ says McNally. He lives in a Tudor bungalow appointed with a central arched hearth and turn-of-the-century furniture and toils by day in his outdoor studio. ‘The warmth of the color and the light that emanates through a piece of opalescent glass brings a certain peace to me.’ This keen affinity for the aesthetic of William Morris and Gustav Stickley attracts discriminating clients from across the country who commission McNally’s lampshades, door panels, skylights and other glass accents for Arts and Crafts bungalow restorations and decorating schemes.

Each of McNally’s one-of-a-kind designs begins with a detailed drawing that evolves into a pattern, which he transfers onto hand-rolled glass. The process often involves extensive research, whether it’s delving into the archives of Santa Barbara’s Museum of Natural History to perfectly replicate Chinese magnolia petals or gathering gingko leaves to better choose between varying shades of green. A single lampshade can take McNally several weeks to build.

It’s a painstaking approach that he relishes. ‘I think we all need a little bit of the Craftsman ideal in our lives as opposed to the plastic throwaway culture that seems to dominate Southern California,’ says McNally, who also collects antique glass lampshades and art pottery from the Craftsman period. ‘I have no patience for the junky craftsmanship that’s put into a lot of stuff nowadays.’

In keeping with the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts movement, which blossomed in England during the late 19th and early 20th centuries in reaction to the dehumanizing effects of the Industrial Revolution, most of McNally’s work features an earthy motif such as trees or flowers. His style is also reminiscent of Art Nouveau glass master Louis Comfort Tiffany, whom McNally admires for his use of bold colors and refined materials. ‘Mr. Tiffany is the granddaddy of glass artists,’ says McNally, who earned a master’s degree in glass blowing from UCLA in 1972 (the degree is no longer offered).

McNally, 54, developed an eye for Craftsman art while growing up in the San Joaquin Valley. ‘I had the good fortune of being around family members who had these objects in their homes,’ he says. However, it was the women in his life who proved to be the biggest influences. His mother, who studied art in college, died at the age of 27, and his grandmother shared her portfolio with McNally years later when he expressed an interest in becoming an artist. ‘That was a wonderful thing for my grandmother to do,’ he says. ‘Seeing those works from my mother really inspired me to pursue something creative.’ Brian McNally, (805) 687-7212

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