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Career in stained glass came naturally

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Stained glass artist Moe Melnick shows off his playing klezmorim. HEATHER SOLOMON PHOTO

Moe Melnick didn’t know what to do with himself when he retired at the age of 62 from Port Royal Fashions.

But his long career as a head cutter and production manager had proven his sharp eye and his talent for precise work. It was when a neighbour at the Twin Ells Campsite, north of Plattsburgh, N.Y. invited him and one of his friends to look over her shoulder while she was cutting stained glass that his curiosity was piqued.

“I was handed a glass cutter and was asked to try and it came naturally. I was shown how to grind the edges, put the foil around them, solder the segments together,” says Melnick. “We open our camper in May and we’re there until September, back and forth between New York State and Montreal, and I never stopped creating.”

The windows and the walls of his apartment here are hung with coloured glass. A merry band of klezmorim in striped stockings tootle on their reed instruments, a multi-masted sailing ship plies blue glass waves, and a Japanese lady in a bright red kimono plucks her samisen.

“My window is like my art gallery. A lot of work went into it,” says Melnick, whose wife Ida often places dibs on a piece before it’s finished. “When he was working on this mantel clock I said, ‘Please don’t give it away to anybody. I want it for our place!’ I’m very proud of his work,” she says, admiring the octagonal-faced timepiece made of purple marbled glass.

Two hanging lamps with graceful flower motifs are destined for each of his sons’ homes.

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The Melnicks winter in Deerfield Beach, Fla., where their community supplies studio space at the clubhouse for the artist to continue his work. Themes are often thrown out like challenges to those working in stained glass, photography, painting, pottery and lapidary, and the results are displayed in a large group exhibition in March.

That’s the only time Melnick shows his works publicly, more’s the pity, but the enjoyment he derives from his work sets a solid example for others as to how art can bring light to one’s life.

Melnick’s background is a snakes-and-ladders progression toward the skills he uses to make his art. He was born in Oungre, Sask., in 1932 to parents from Minsk and Pinsk who arrived in 1929, thanks to Baron de Hirsch’s Jewish Colonization Association, to farm the Prairies.

The drought drove them eastward and they joined other relatives in the Melnick clan in Montreal where they all shared a seven-room home on Villeneuve Street.

Melnick’s father at first farmed the land on Bourret Avenue, raising healthy vegetables to feed patients at the Jewish General Hospital (JGH). When he injured his back, he switched to the hospital’s woodshop, building shelving and cabinets for the JGH before he opened a deli on the Main.

This dexterity was handed down to Melnick.

“And my sons are talented that way, too. The older one is in computers, window treatments and awnings and the younger one is a master electrician,” says Melnick, who is considering collaborating with them to build light boxes for his stained glass so that they can show off their brilliance in any area of a room.

The artist has also tried his hand successfully at wood carving through the Cummings Centre where he volunteered in the cafeteria for 15 years and where his wife plays mandolin with a group. But it’s glass that truly inspires him.

He and Ida spent three weeks in Israel, their third trip there, to celebrate their grandson’s bar mitzvah and Melnick came away with an image of the Kotel that he realized in stained glass, complete with notes tucked in the niches.

He’s working on another special piece to commemorate his and Ida’s 58th wedding anniversary in November.