Giving Light a Place to Perform

Giving Light a Place to Perform
By Anna Horsnell

For artist Catherine van der Woerd, colour and light truly lie at the heart of her creations. She paints with stained glass and the very nature of the medium comes to life with the changing light. Flickering, deepening, brightening with intensity, this is art that awakens with the sun.

Her summer studio in Harbourville has large windows overlooking the Bay of Fundy. Inspiration surrounds her between the ever-changing sky and ocean, and the fields and forest framing her cottage. Van der Woerd’s artwork is properly described as glass on glass mosaic, and her process is both carefully thought out and free flowing. Artistically inclined since childhood, she has painted with acrylics, watercolours, and lesser-known alcohol inks, but fell in love with the uniqueness and magic qualities of stained glass and, since 2013, there has been no turning back. She much prefers creating with brilliant colours she can hold in her hands to the more finicky detailed work involved with painting.

There was a lot to learn however: simple things like the difference between exterior and interior light. Self-taught, she grew her skills through trial and error, and slowly acquired all the necessary tools, from grinders and glue to the wide array of coloured glass and cabochon pieces that became her palette. “I love the intense colour. It’s alive and it changes a room,” she explains with infectious enthusiasm.

It all begins with an idea, and she simply follows her instincts. Often that idea originates with a commission request, and then van der Woerd first plans a visit to the intended home. She likes to get a feel for the surroundings and the particular light conditions before designing something uniquely suited to that location. A quick sketch comes next, either on paper or marked on the back side of the glass sheet on which she will build the mosaic. She almost immediately has colours in mind, and her subjects usually pertain to nature, from dragonflies and flowers to larger landscape compositions or seascapes, including the creatures beneath the waves. Sometimes a piece of textured or variegated glass will suggest a particular subject itself and that is often where the fun begins.
Van der Woerd’s special light table allows her to work flat, and also provides crucial lighting underneath the work surface. She starts placing the glass fragments, gluing down areas bit by bit, and then must wait for a few days or up to a week for it to dry. Next she wipes black sanded grouting over the entire piece before thoroughly and carefully cleaning off the glass to reveal the finished artwork. No sealant is required. The final step is framing, which is her husband’s contribution, unless of course, she created the work on an old or existing window. For larger pieces, the entire process might take several months. The big reveal, however, is when the mosaic is lifted into place and light filters through the myriad colours and patterns. Van der Woerd’s designs are intricate and clever, giving light a place to truly perform.

What’s next? Van der Woerd exudes the joy of art-making and happily welcomes wherever the next project will lead her. “I don’t know. Day by day, I love a challenge when it comes to my artwork. Who knows?” she smiles with genuine excitement.

Catherine van der Woerd’s mosaics are available at Edible Art in New Minas, during the summer at the North Mountain Market in Harbourville, online at, or email her at Her work is also showcased in the book Emma’s Garden by Kim Michelle.