“The origins of stained glass were to tell the stories of the Bible to people who couldn’t read, to tell the scriptures, from Genesis to Revelations, to illustrate heaven and hell." - David Fjeld
Once you’ve stepped into David Fjeld’s studio, you’ll find the experience difficult to describe but you’ll be glad you took the time to do so.
Most days you’ll find him there early in the morning, looking over the previous days work, evaluating a current project, or sketching concepts for clients. A humble, soft spoken artisan, he greets you warmly. His Harley Davidson belt buckle and “No Whining” coffee mug give glimpses into the man.
David Fjeld’s work appears in numerous public locations such as churches and convents, hospitals and hotels, local bars as well as some of the most luxurious private residences in the world.
A member of the Stained Glass Association of America (8 years) his work has been for displayed in England, New York, Rhode Island, Georgia, Hawaii, and he’s done restoration work all over the Rocky Mountains. He’s worked for NFL team owners, Hollywood movie stars, and corporate billionaires.
It is a family trade, David’s parents Carl (“Stub”) and Mary Lou Fjeld, owned Lake Paint and Glass in Bozeman for many years. All three of the sons have followed in their footsteps. Dave’s brother, Chuck, works with him in the shop and brother, Timm, is self-employed as a glass contractor.
“We were cutting glass at an early age,” he says.
David Fjeld has studied in England with Patrick Reyntiens, one of the premier stained glass artists in that country, along with Paul Marioni at the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington Sate. All of this experience paid off, since today, Fjeld constructs CUSTOM ART for a worldwide customer base.
“Most of our work is in high-end homes,” noted Fjeld, adding that many of his clients live in Big Sky. He has designed stained glass for homes in the Yellowstone Club, along with the Bozeman Deaconess Hospital Chapel, the Big Sky Meadow Village Chapel, and ranches throughout the area. Typically, customers hear about his work and hire him to do a specific piece.
“Now, most all of the art we do is commission work for people who want something for their homes. Usually they have an idea to start with, and we go from there. It’s all custom.”
His work includes everything from religious subjects and text to wolves, trout, wheat and mountains. His stained glass can create the illusion of 3D depth or a textured appearance, and he is equally adept at modern or contemporary styles.
“We do a lot of designs that’s hard to describe. We do metal work within the glass, bend glass, and use a lot of clear glass that sparkles with the light. We do the traditional work of course, but I try to move it BEYOND what people normally think of.”
As a result of David Fjeld's INNOVATIVE STYLE, he has won shows and had his work appear in the Stained Glass Association of America’s calendar.
He works with architects to ensure that the final product in incorporated correctly with the overall architectural design of the building.
“We do all of the design, layout, glass cutting and window construction at the studio located at 2421 West College in Bozeman. “I love to work with customers that want the best!”
When David’s father Carl “Stub” Fjeld returned from WWII, he taught high school history and coached football at Bozeman High School back when it was in the Willson building. When a local glass company came up for sale, he and his wife Mary Lou bought it, despite knowing nothing about the business.
Some of David’s earliest memories are of “working with Dad”, cutting glass as a 4 year old in his parent’s glass shop. As years went on, David and younger brother Timm would pretend that they were “strong men”, bending and biting the pieces of lead. “I’ve lost a lot of blood doing this," he chuckled.
My dad used to cut himself so bad and then come home and sew himself together with a needle and thread. “Ah, we used to do this on the farm all the time,” his father would say.
School was not a favorite subject. He seems to remember flunking math and geometry and struggling in English. When David Fjeld's father realized that his son was not doing well in the traditional classroom, he purchased a stained glass kit as an incentive and said, “Why don’t we try this?” It turned out to be his salvation. “I’m not sure what made dad think to do that but I can’t thank him enough,”
“Art got me through high school," he says matter-of-factly, “During my senior year, I had 4 periods of art.”
He remembers that one of his first jobs was repairing old church windows that were going into a bar in Billings called “Grandmas.” He was learning how to repair. He got $500 and it was a big deal. It was his first bona fide job. He was hooked. People began to hear about him doing stained glass. His first commissioned job was for the House Family, a simple geometric design.
His formal studies began in 1973 when he attended Architectural Art Glass in Seattle. It was there that he came across a book by Patrick Reyntiens, one of the premier European glass designers. Mr. Reyntiens is an award winning, stained glass artist who has been associated intimately with the major achievements in the medium in England since 1951. He is also the author of the book, The Technique of Stained Glass (1967). It was an authoritative new technical handbook on the subject for artists, designer, and craftsmen and the first comprehensive book on the technique of stained glass.
When he learned that Mr. Reyntiens was offering classes, he traveled abroad to England to study under him. He wanted to learn “real, traditional stained glass techniques." It was here that he focused on how to paint and fire glass, restoration techniques and design.
While there, he made a point to tour numerous (14th-15th century) old world cathedrals throughout Oxford and London. This was during the time period of the IRA bombings and was somewhat nerve-wracking.
After returning to Bozeman, David Fjeld decided to attend the Pilchuck Glass Center in Washington State (1976) and to work with Paul Marioni. He calls this “probably one of the best experiences” in his life. He studied more contemporary designs, “new style” glass, “glass bending” and what he considered to be real “cutting edge design.” He remembers it fondly, particularly the hardships. “I was living in a tent in the forest with slugs and squirrels coming into my tent.” “Now to get into that school,” he says, “you’ve really got to have something.”
He certainly must have had “something.” He took with him a letter of recommendation from Mr. Reyntiens that said:
DAVID FJELD is an artist as well as being a fine technician. His work is small in scale but extremely INDIVIDUAL. He worked with me for 12 weeks and taught me a lot. I also taught him something, too. His sense of colour is exact. Lyrical, modest, and true. He is not a vulgar ‘artist.’ I cannot recommend him high enough but don’t expect spectacularity – only integrity and hard work."
Patrick Reyntiens - Burleigh Field House – Loudwater – Buckinghamshire
In the inside cover of his book, he penned the inscription, “Not much in here, Dave, you don’t know all ready. With my regards and affection, Patrick - Dec 11th 1975 (my 50th Birthday)- PS - (it is possible to survive at this game.)
He has since done many restorative projects. Two of the more notable ones are the Story Mansion in Bozeman and the Queen Anne, Colonial Revival Home on Bozeman’s Third Avenue. The new owners of that home remodeled with elaborate stained glass incorporating Basque symbols into some of the designs.
"Most people don’t fully comprehend what goes into creating a particular piece. Those who have tried their hand at creating “art glass” have discovered how difficult it is to do. It takes time and patience. It can take three weeks just to pick out and cut all of the glass for an involved window. It can sometimes take an hour just to find a single piece that is "perfect”.
David Fjeld puts so much of himself into each window, a lot of feeling, a lot of care. “I’ll go to just about any length to make sure that a window has a real quality. There’s a lot of thought and a lot of care."
He didn’t make a lot of money for a lot of years and he looks back at that time with a grin. "My first “studio” was nothing more than a little shack. No heat in the place. I worked over a space heater. My first light easel was a tiny, little window that looked out over an alleyway."
"The lean years are always the ones that separate those with true passion from the pretenders".