Talent Show: Patience is a virtue for young stained glass artist

Talent Show: Patience is a virtue for young stained glass artist

July 10th, 2012 by Casey Phillips in Life Entertainment

Emily Hooper, 14, has spent three years working on a project to create and install stained glass windows depicting historic scenes into the lobby of Whitwell Middle School.

Emily Hooper, 14, has spent three years working...

Photo by Allison Love /Times Free Press.


Age: 14.

School: Rising 10th-grader at Whitwell High School.

Siblings: Sister, Katherine, 12, and brother, Ethan, 10.

Her dream job: Robotics engineer.

Favorite book: "The Hunger Games" trilogy by Suzanne Collins and the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.

Favorite movie: Disney's "Peter Pan."


Emily Hooper has spent three years working on a project to create and install stained glass windows depicting historic scenes into the lobby of Whitwell Middle School. She also is an honors student and a frequent volunteer at her church and school.

Since she was a toddler, Emily Hooper has loved making things, but some of her latest creations need a little light to truly shine.

Whenever the sun strikes her stained-glass designs, Emily said, she is both awed by their beauty and reminded of the patience required to finish them.

"I like [stained glass] a lot just because it's hard to do, which makes it mean more to me," she said. "I do like a challenge."

Emily, 14, was introduced to stained glass in 2008 by her grandmother, Linda Hooper, who is the former principal at Whitwell Middle School.

Hooper received national attention in the late 1990s for spearheading The Paper Clip Project, a school program to encourage tolerance and diversity by collecting 6 million paper clips to memorialize the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The project eventually became the subject of a novel and a feature-length documentary from Miramax Films.

When the school was to be relocated closer to downtown in 2008, Hooper decided the new building should celebrate the history of the Sequatchie Valley with themed stained-glass windows installed in the entrance lobby.

Hooper received money from the Tennessee Arts Commission to fund the project. She got two local stained-glass artists to help and established an after school program for students.

Whitwell's stained-glass group meets for two hours one afternoon a week under the supervision of professional artists Jackie Lofty and Sarah Moore. They have created the windows at a pace of about two a year and have three more to complete before the project is finished.

In sixth grade, Emily was one of the eight students in the first group. Even though she graduated to Whitwell High School last year, she has participated in the program every week.

Emily said she was unsure at first how interested she would be, but she was fascinated almost from the moment she walked into a small room behind the main office and rolled a cutter over a sheet of glass.

"The whole process was interesting," she said. "You have to think, and if something is wrong, you have to figure out how to fix it. I like that."

So far, the group has crafted windows depicting images of local landmarks such as Ketner's Mill, a coal mine, the county court-house and the city's original high school. The final windows will be themed after the school's Children's Holocaust Memorial, above which they will be installed.

In eighth grade, Emily became so enamored with stained glass that her parents set up a workshop for her in the garage.

Working primarily out of pattern books, Emily has made about a dozen pieces, many of which she has given to family members. Last Christmas, she made a blond angel in pale blue robes with olive and lilac accents for her grandmother and a pearlescent snowman for her mother.

Given stained glass's fragility, patience is vital, Emily said.

If she leaves her soldering iron on the glass for too long, it breaks. If she drops it, it breaks. If the iron used to hem in the individual pieces is applied too thickly or incorrectly, she will often be forced to start over.

As a result of the potential frustration, the medium is not one many young people take up, Lofty said.

"There have been a few younger kids to do it, but she [Emily] must love it," she said. "She sends me pictures of her work, and it's amazing that she's taken it up on her own."

Since Emily was 3, she has demonstrated a love of working with her hands. That year, her parents gave her a toy toolbox for Christmas.

As a result, Wendy Hooper said, her daughter's interest in a hands-on medium like stained glass wasn't surprising, but it has been nice to see her discover a passion.

"We've encouraged that as much as possible to give her an outlet to express her creativity," she said. "Whatever she's made, we've got set out."


Do you know a child age 17 or younger with a precocious talent in academics, athletics or the arts? The Times Free Press is searching for children to feature in "Talent Show," which appears Tuesdays in the Life section. To nominate a child as a possible subject of a future feature article, email staff writer Casey Phillips at cphillips@timesfreepress.com or call him at 423-757-6205.