Don Smischny was celebrated as the Featured Artist at this year’s Art is Ageless exhibit at Salina Presbyterian Manor, an honor that started just last year. Visitors were treated to a gallery of Smischny’s stained-glass work in the form of lampshades, suncatchers, and even a bird feeder.
It’s a craft he developed only since retiring as an elementary school principal in Ellsworth. But Smischny said art has been a lifelong pastime. He has also crafted ornaments for the family Christmas tree, using glass balls injected with paint. He’s done rope coil weaving for a number of years. And he’s a fan of Chinese dragon boats – these colorful, traditional ornaments are made of crochet thread or yarn woven into six-pointed, three-dimensional shapes with a tassel at the bottom.
When Smischny moved to Salina 15 years ago, he discovered a stained glass shop downtown. “They had some classes and I got hooked,” he said.
Creating stained glass is difficult and delicate work. Once he decides on a concept, Smischny sets to work on designing the pattern, getting the glass he needs, and cutting and grinding it. He also must create and solder the lead frames that hold the glass panes. The last step is applying the patina.
Birds are one of his favorite subjects, in addition to the lamps and panels. He built a stained-glass bird feeder for his own patio. He doesn’t sell any of his pieces, but many of them have found homes with family members. “I have four children, and they all have requests,” he said.
For his daughter in Salina, he fashioned a lamp with a 1950s-style graphic pattern, which included some difficult shape work. The circle had to be cut out, he said, which is a high risk for breakage.
Smischny said he was honored to be named this year’s Featured Artist. “There are so many talented people in the manor,” he said. “It’s nice to honor them all.”