Heart of glass

Philip Teefy

Photo By Larry Dalton

Philip Teefy happily turned his hobby into a business in 1974. As owner of Rainbow Glass (4556 Auburn Blvd., Carmichael), Teefy (pictured with wife Hazel and granddaughter Jessica Cooley) has become well-known throughout the Sacramento area for his skills as a glass worker. His store is filled with examples of his expertise, including stained glass windows, blown glass, art pieces and more. Proud that he is applying techniques—such as fusing glass—that were put into practice more than 6,000 years ago, Teefy has passed on his love for glasswork to family members. His wife, Hazel, joined the business in 1980. His daughter, Shelley, and granddaughter, Jessica, each began learning the trade at a young age. Each family member has branched out and developed their own specialties in working with glass.

When did you decide working with glass was what you wanted to do?

My father purchased a [stained glass] window and donated it to a church in 1966, and I thought it was really cool. And then we used to hang out at the Tower Records on El Camino and Watt, and Sam’s [Hof-Brau] was there. There was a guy in the back room who made stained glass … and I used to go talk to him all the time and thought “God, I want to do this.”

And then you started taking classes?

That’s when I saw [they were] available in college. I was going to be a print-maker; my dream was to open a shop and make posters. I still kind of do that, but this [glass work] took over; it’s this great thing. I was handicapped in ‘74; I got in an automobile accident. Everybody in church [collected] $5,000 [to help me out]. My dad [stood up] in church and said to everyone that it was really cool that everyone gave me money to help out, but [that I] do stained glass on the side as a hobby and have a whole house [full] of stuff. He told them to stop giving me money and go over and buy a hummingbird instead. Traffic at my house got so bad that the police came and told us we had to stop doing this [out of] our home.

Do you still love working with glass as much as when you started?

Oh, more now, because I’m really involved with it. In fact, we just finished the church in Galt, St. Christopher’s. You go to the opening, and it’s just so phenomenal that somebody will hire you to fill a whole architectural space up with windows; it’s pretty exciting. It just encompasses our whole family. My granddaughter started cleaning the windows when she was 6 years old. [The family] comes out and helps you install [the glass].

How old was your daughter when you started getting her involved?

She was 9. When she went to El Camino High School during her sophomore year, she would do show and tell and take in something like this [glass work] and say she had made it, and [the other students] would say “Liar, liar … impossible” because they didn’t have industrial arts [at the school]. When I went there, they did, but when she went to El Camino, they cut it out. The school brought [industrial arts] back in the ‘80s, so my granddaughter—she goes to El Camino now—she makes a bead or a marble, and [students] think it’s cool and want to see it.

What is your favorite piece that you’ve produced?

It’s probably a simple one … that one we just finished in Galt at St. Christopher’s, because it was painted, and the main architectural artists that we worked with gave me a free rein. They wanted stylized honeycombs symbolizing the church members going out to collect the bitter and the sweet and bringing it back to church. I was able to do what I wanted, and that gave me free rein. It was 1,000 percent me.

Do you have any specialties?

The thing that we specialize in is the glass-in-kiln forming—melting the glass. We travel around the United States to Portland, Las Vegas, New York. We teach marbling classes, glass fusing. My favorite part of the job description is teaching, which we’re pretty heavily into.

Is it difficult to learn how to blow glass?

Blown glass is difficult to learn because either you are able to do it or you aren’t. You can learn, but it’s difficult. The fusing is really easy—I teach that in middle schools when we get the grants to teach the sixth-graders. It’s so easy that sixth-graders come out with beautiful pieces. Their parents come in with tears in their eyes saying, “My son did that.” There are certain things in here that are extremely easy to do, and then like the glass-blowing, extremely hard to do.

Is it dangerous working with glass since you’re dealing with such hot temperatures?

Well, we’ve never gotten burned or anything. We’ve only had one student get burned back in 1977, and he burned himself. So it’s not dangerous like that. My granddaughter started making paperweights when she was 12. It’s not dangerous here because of the way we do it—[the glass] is all recycled. You’re not dealing with the chemistry of the glass. There is no release of [toxins].