A life dedicated to a passion for stained glass artwork By Taylor Shillam
It’s a beautiful thing to turn your passion into your life’s work. Coeur d’Alene resident Lee Hagen is the artist behind a collection of beautiful stained glass artwork spanning decades. For 45 years, she has mastered her craft and continued to share it, from owning a shop on Sherman Avenue, to participating in numerous craft shows, to passing on her craft in lessons to both adults and children.
Hagen moved to Coeur d’Alene in her college years to pursue an education at Eastern Washington University and spend time with her father, a local business owner.
It was in Coeur d’Alene that she began selling her works of art, starting a family friend’s shop in Hayden, and resulting in Lee’s Stained Glass, a shop of her own on Sherman Avenue. Lee’s Stained Glass is a memory of the past, but her work is here to stay—today, Hagen continues to create works of stained glass within her own home. Hagen is a prime example of holding onto a passion and flourishing with it. She has been drawn to creative work since childhood.
“As far back as I can remember, I was always interested in art of some kind,” Hagen recalls. “I liked to color, draw and paint. My favorite thing was to get a new box of crayons with coloring books or sketch pads.”
As she grew older, her skill sets expanded as she delved into hands-on crafts like cross-stitch and creating latch-hook rugs. In junior high and high school, she took all the art classes she could.
It was in an art class during her first year of college where she was introduced to shaping glass. Hagen called her first year of art classes eye-opening, as they introduced her to many types of art she hadn’t yet explored, including jewelry making, woodwork, pottery and, of course, glasswork.
“The first time I cut and shaped the piece of glass, I was hooked,” she said, remembering the way glasswork caught her attention far more than anything else she was learning. “All the artwork was fun, but I had always loved the look of stained glass.”
Hagen had fond memories of being mesmerized by stained glass as a child. “A church I used to go to with a friend had beautiful windows, and I would just look at them all the time,” she said.
Her favorite class that year was loom weaving, a course in using a device to create cloth and tapestries—but the true impact of the class came not from the subject matter but from the instructor.
“The best thing was that the teacher also did stained glass,” Hagen recalled. The teacher was an accomplished artist on her own, with her work being showcased at a local museum.
Excited at the prospect of a mentor to guide her pursuit of stained glass, Hagen attended the show and managed to convince her instructor that she was serious about the craft. Although the instructor wasn’t teaching stained glass at the time, she agreed to stay an extra hour after the weaving classes to show Hagen more about glasswork.
Given the opportunity to learn from a seasoned professional, Hagen quickly delved into learning everything she could—starting with how to cut, grind, fold and solder materials for stained glass. She never looked back.
When Hagen finished her art degree, she made the decision to move and further her education in Coeur d’Alene, where her father lived.
Hagen’s father offered her the opportunity to rent one of the several offices he owned in the downtown area.
The first time a friend had asked her about teaching stained glass, Hagen declined due to a lack of time and space to host the classes. The business rental offer from her father, combined with an opportunity to take a quarter off from school, gave her the perfect timing to revisit the idea.
Hagen set up the shop on her own, creating a business plan, obtaining a small business loan, buying inventory and creating a class schedule. It was March of 1983, and her first class had four students, two of whom she remains good friends with to this day.
After the eruption of Mt. St. Helens slowed down her initial operations just two months after opening, Lee’s Stained Glass returned to become a very successful business.
For 15 years, Hagen’s shop thrived. She made thousands of light catchers and hundreds of stained-glass windows. She created lamps and windows for many local homes, including those showcased in the annual Parade of Homes. She took her work to art shows and craft fairs across Washington, Idaho and Montana.
It became time to close the doors to the Sherman Avenue storefront in 1995. With Hagen’s children growing older, she was spending less time at craft shows, and brought the business into her home to refocus on family and other avenues for sharing her craft.
Hagen transitioned from teaching adults in her shop to teaching children in 4-H, an organization her family had been involved with for years. Now in her 30th year as 4-H leader, she teaches children ages 12 and older about stained glass and glass etching—under parent supervision due to the risk of grinding and soldering materials. From her time working with children, she recalls memories like etching Christmas-tree ornaments for fundraisers and helping elementary schools craft artwork to sell at their auctions.
Last year, she helped a class at Sorensen Elementary craft a lamp for their school auction. The students designed the lamp and chose its colors and foil, with Hagen performing the glass work to complete it. This year’s project with the school will be a window.
Hagen uses two methods to create her works: the lead technique and the copper foil method. The latter allows her to create intricate designs for windows, lamps and light catchers.
She finds relaxation in the process and draws from nature to create her pieces. “I’m always looking at sunsets, trees, clouds, flowers and animals to see what looks good together,” she said. Her pieces can take anywhere from half an hour to complete for a light catcher, up to days to finish an intricate stained-glass window.
After 45 years, Hagen still loves time spent in her workroom creating stained-glass pieces. However, she doesn’t keep any stained-glass pieces in her own home.
“The funny thing is, I don’t have any pieces in my own house because I either sell them or create them as a gift,” Hagen said. The single piece she keeps for herself is a window, made with a special piece of glass she bought 40 years ago.
Today, it waits in her workshop to be framed as she continues to use her craft to make the world a little brighter.
Lee Hagen’s story is a notable one for many reasons, perhaps the biggest being that it’s a real, close-to-home story of a life lived in full pursuit of a passion that evolves with life’s changes, but never ends. Spending a lifetime doing what you love can seem impossible, but Hagen has done just that.