A former outdoor educator and emerging artist grant recipient, Anderson is an advocate for art in schools and the flourishing Coastside creative community.

Glass artist Hannah Anderson works on a commission at Aanraku Glass Studios in San Mateo on July 17. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Half Moon Bay glass artist Hannah Anderson was working at an outdoor preschool in Montara before going remote during the pandemic. As a way to fill her time, she immediately purchased art supplies and started painting. While sifting through her parents’ garage, she also found glass art tools that belonged to her father, an art therapist, which brought back memories of cutting glass in the garage with him when she was younger.

“The (tools) were really rusty, but they still worked,” Anderson said. Given a lack of space that is considered essential for glass art, she tried to be “as inventive as possible.” She set up a makeshift work station by placing her glass grinder, a device that shapes and smooths the glass, on her washer and dryer, sitting and cutting glass at a small card table outside.

Eventually, Anderson posted a few stained-glass pieces to her Instagram and received commissions from friends. That prompted her to start going into Aanraku Glass Studios in San Mateo to make bigger, more complicated pieces and led to a job offer at the studio, where she works full time as the customer service manager, packing, shipping and repairing stained glass. Anderson was awarded the Made on the Coast Emerging Artist Grant in 2021, which offers financial support to up-and-coming artists.

A commission in progress by glass artist Hannah Anderson. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

“Being an artist and making income from my art was always a dream,” Anderson said. “I’ve always been the one that says, ‘I really love to do this, but I don’t think it’s going to make me enough money.’” 

Anderson was surrounded by “lots of nature and lots of ocean” growing up on the San Mateo County coast. She lived in Half Moon Bay, Montara and Pescadero and attended Half Moon Bay High School. As an outdoorsy family, her parents would take Anderson and her sister on hikes up Montara Mountain and out to Mavericks Beach and Montara State Beach. Anderson grew up in a household that also valued art and creativity, she said, given her father’s job in art therapy and her mother’s career working with children at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. 

Although she started college interested in environmental science, Anderson realized she was spending the most time on her art classes. She later combined interests derived from her parents into a self-designed major of studio art and art in education at Hampshire College, a western Massachusetts liberal arts college with an alternative education approach. The small community, outdoorsy feel and overall “hippie vibe” of Hampshire aligned with Anderson’s interests, and she enjoyed the opportunity to take art classes at other nearby colleges, such as sculpture classes and printmaking at Amherst College. 

After taking a class on public education, Anderson saw the importance of advocating for art classes, as when school funding is scarce, these courses are often the first to be cut, she said.

Hannah Anderson began creating stained-glass works after uncovering her father’s tools in her parents’ garage during the height of the pandemic. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

“I was reading studies about how crucial arts classes were for kids…I got really into that,” she said. “I was trying to become an advocate for kids being able to do art in school, so I interned at one of the elementary schools and taught a few classes.” 

Following stints working at an after-school outdoors program and a Montara preschool, Anderson said she would love to keep working with kids and incorporate teaching into her stained-glass art. 

“We don’t have a ton of younger people come into the studio,” Anderson said. “It sounds scary because there’s glass involved, but something I learned from Reggio Emilia Approach is that if you’re a good enough teacher and you’re really attentive, you can have younger kids handle glass and tools.”

Anderson added that if she were to teach children, she would probably pre-cut the glass and have them arrange it and choose colors. 

Although her majors were art-related, Anderson did not abandon her passion for science and nature. She designs mandalas, inspired by her father’s art therapy, with cell-like and neuron-like shapes. Hiking is another form of inspiration for Anderson’s glass art, whether it be to Pigeon Point in Pescadero or along the steep cliffs at Grey Whale Cove State Beach in Montara. This week, she biked to Martins Beach to take a closer look at the rocks, which she will be recreating with glass for Handmade Pacifica’s local artisan fair July 30.

After going through the nature-related photos she has taken and fleshing out ideas, Anderson turns to the app ProCreate to digitally design her glass art with a basic line drawing. Ninety-degree angles aren’t possible when creating stained-glass pieces, so that is something Anderson adapts later in the process. Her biggest challenge is that her initial designs tend to be complicated, she said, due to the intricate doodles she creates. 

“But I think I’ve learned that less can be more with stained glass, because when you’re picking the colors, there’s already a lot of depth to the sheets of glass color-wise,” Anderson said. “You can have one piece of glass that looks blue, but there’s all of these other colors mixed into it. There’s different spaces in the glass where it looks opaque or transparent, or streaks and texture.”

To check the opacity, Anderson uses a lightbox or holds segments to the light to decide which ones to use. She then cuts the sheets into pieces with a machine, grinding them around the edges until they become smooth. A glass cutter is then used for more precise trimming.

After that, there are different techniques for piecing the fragments together, which include copper foiling and lead glass. For copper foiling, Anderson wraps each piece in copper foil and holds them together with a gel flux liquid applied with a brush before soldering the pieces. For the lead glass method most often used in traditional church windows, which Anderson has tried more recently, thin strips of lead are placed between the pieces in a putty with a patina that hardens and turns to black after the joints are soldered.

Glass artist Hannah Anderson’s piece “Fog over Pillar Point,” which she created for the Made On the Coast Grant. Courtesy Hannah Anderson.

Small pieces, like suncatchers, could take three to four hours. But the larger pieces take up to 40 hours, and Anderson must find time outside of her working hours to complete them. 

Anderson is “not big on naming pieces,” so she described creating a long, skinny, deep blue and orange beanstalk figure using lead glass, which she considers one of her favorites. Another favorite was a larger, complex work designed for the Made On the Coast Grant. The 3-by-5 stained-glass piece depicts Pillar Point in the fog.

“I picked it because it felt like this really iconic view of Half Moon Bay that I had been seeing since I was young,” she said. “It really resonated with me and I knew it would resonate with the community.”

Artist Hannah Anderson grinds a piece of glass at Aanraku Glass Studios, where she works as the customer service manager and uses the space to create large pieces. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Anderson is currently working on a commissioned piece, designed by a colleague for a home in the Hillsborough area, which will take her around 25 hours altogether. She used copper foil, which is more precise, to make roses in the middle and lead, which looks cleaner, Anderson said, for a surrounding circle outline. 

She has also been experimenting with painting the glass fragments with mandala-like designs and hopes to incorporate glass painting in her future works. 

Anderson added that the support and inspiration from the Coastside art community has helped her  grow more confident as a glass artist. 

“I feel like an artist now. It took me a long time to call myself an artist,” she said. “I want to hold on to the idea of making art and creating because it makes me feel happy to be alive…I feel like I have a space to do that.”

Hannah Anderson can be reached for commissions through her website and Instagram, @handersonarts. She also sells work at pop-up shows along the coast (more information on her social media). 

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