How does a Marine Corps crew chief on F4 Phantoms get into creating stained-glass masterpieces? All it takes is one breathtaking experience with a church and a big window.
Maple Grove resident John “Mac” McMillan was stationed in Hawaii when he stumbled upon a three-story A-frame church in Honolulu. “I was able to go inside, and the contemporary design and colors overwhelmed me,” McMillan remembers.
When he got out of the service, he studied art in college and learned about many different art forms. “I’ve come to believe that there is no other medium that expresses color more vibrantly than stained glass,” McMillan claims. “And when light passes through it, it comes alive!”
McMillan started by buying some glass, materials and cutting tools, and taught himself the basics of the craft. Untutored, he’s developed his own style over 39 years of hobby and part-time glass work.
Since retiring four years ago, he’s been busy designing and building full time. “I’ve been fortunate to have folks that are interested in what I do and have commissioned me to do work in their home,” McMillan says. “Because every customer wants something different, this has made my work very interesting—designing and making a piece of art.”
Of course, stained glass requires time and attention to detail. McMillian spends a week or two in the design phase, going back and forth with the client, making sure everything is just right. “Drawing a good, comprehensive design and getting the colors right is really mind-blowing,” McMillian says. Then, he cuts out his designs in paper which is used as a pattern. He likens his work at this point to creating puzzles out of glass. After about two weeks of “puzzlework,” a completed sidelight-sized window is ready for installation.
“During the creation of their pieces, clients come to realize just how labor intensive the process is, which makes the end result even more gratifying,” McMillan says.
This process of transforming smaller colored pieces into a larger artwork is sometimes a matter of trial and error. “You get to know where you can push and pull the glass to get it to do what you want it to do,” he says. And over the years, McMillan has also come to realize that he doesn’t care for some of the old, traditional pattern styles, preferring to make his pieces look like pictures.
Besides his large projects, McMillan makes sure he has what he terms “little trinkets,” or smaller stained glass motifs, so that people who visit his booth at art shows can afford to get a sense of what is possible with glass. He has fashioned everything from windows to lamps and home accent pieces.
You can see McMillan’s work, for the fifth year, along with the work of many talented area artists, at the upcoming juried Maple Grove Days Art Fair. In the light of a summer afternoon, these stained-glass pieces will draw colorful attention among other mediums such as drawing, jewelry, photography and watercolor at the fair.
IF YOU GO
Where: Main Street Maple Grove
When: July 12, 10 a.m.–6 p.m., and July 13,
11 a.m.–5 p.m. Cost: Free
See more of McMillan’s work at macstouchof glass.com.