Home & Design

Playing with Color and Light

Reston-based artist Brenda Belfield transforms spaces with her exuberant paintings and stained-glass creations

Belfield teaches an intuitive abstract class at Artworks.

“Artworks is really a studio, and sometimes a gallery,” says Brenda Belfield, leading the way into her amazing work and display space. Light floods in from the tall windows; one wall is hung with paintings, the other with the numbered cartoon for a stained-glass window. Her back room is a glorious jumble of sheets of glass, a firing kiln and tables of works in progress. To enter Artworks is to find oneself at the center of the shimmering, shifting, illusory colors of the glass Belfield works with, which change with the clouds sailing by outside and the movement of the beholder. Belfield’s work is everywhere, from the delicate works on thin handmade paper, half calligraphy and half bold brushstrokes, that were inspired by a trip to China, to the evocative bursts of vibrant color in the large modern canvases along the wall.

Trained at George Washington University and the Corcoran, Belfield’s reputation is international. Her work includes 60 windows at the Washington National Cathedral, a wall of glass and marble at NATO’s Sigonella base in Sicily, a glass panel at the American Embassy in Saudi Arabia and glass installations in chapels and churches from North Carolina to California. She has received six national awards for her stained-glass designs; her paintings have been featured in numerous one-person shows.

Whether she’s working on an installation for a private home or a house of worship, Belfield’s inspirations come from her acute observations of the world around her and her strong sensitivity to what the space is designed to do. “What you see here is a small sampling of my work,” Belfield points out. On one wall is a huge 12-by-12-foot cartoon, something like a blank paint-by-numbers, which represents the plan for a stained-glass window for a chapel in Denver. “This window is for a meditative chapel, so it has to block the light, and be very quiet,” she says. “This one is for another wall, so you can get a sense of the scale—two walls adjoining at the corner. When you stand in the middle, you will be in the midst of the glass that creates a shield, a quiet retreat from the world. It should have some color, but it should not distract or overwhelm.”

Belfield chooses each piece of glass she works with, looking carefully at each sheet. The patterns and whorls, the colors and surface textures are as individual to her as children in a classroom, waiting to be taught what their true gifts are. Belfield uses hand-blown glass from the Lambert Studio in Germany. It is shipped to a warehouse in New Jersey, where she chooses the color palette, and then it’s shipped to Serbia, where her fabricator, Steven Stanisic, operates his studio. Belfield will email the cartoon design and color specifications to Stanisic, whose craftsmen will cut each piece by hand and assemble the panels for shipment back to the States.

“I’m working on a project now for the lobby of the Odyssey Residence in Arlington…a very quiet, Zen-like interior suggestive of water,” she says, fingering a sheet of glass that is not blue, not green, but a running pattern of both reminiscent of the swirls in a clear pool. “Glass always looks like water to me anyway,” she points out, leading the way to the kiln. “It’s all about light; if it reflects, it’s one color; if the light passes through it, it’s another. It [glass] must be cut, or broken, to form a new piece. I see the shattered glass as a metaphor for shattered lives that are annealed and made into a new whole. The broken pieces become even more beautiful after they’ve gone through the fire,” she says. “It’s fascinating work, helping people imagine how the space can be transformed by art. In my own house, I switch things around all the time. Because sometimes, I feel outgoing, and I like bright color, and other times, I’m retreating; I want very minimal quiet paintings; I call those my Zen series, where there is an absence of colors.”

Belfield is continuously inspired by the world around her to create both her glass designs and her paintings. “I’m not just a glass artist,” she says firmly. “I’m interested in too many things.” Central to her glass art and paintings is the essence of surfaces beyond which there are other worlds, other depths. The interplay of transparency, translucency, opacity, texture and color that characterizes her glass is equally characteristic of her paintings, encaustics and collages. “The encaustics were from a time when I was using very little color; the Zen series is one I keep going back to; both are works you can find more things in, the longer you look.”

For the last few years Belfield’s design work has turned increasingly to employing all her techniquesto create home spaces that reflect her clients’ individuality. “I did a group of fused glass pieces for a home where they had beautiful gray walls; the glass was hung so it seemed to float over that beautiful gray; they appear to be transparent, or opaque, and they shift in color as the light shifts, as the people move.” Another of her designs is a 14-foot panel of clerestory glass windows in a bedroom. The central panel of the window has a full moon made of opalescent glass, which holds the light from a street lamp outside, and glows all night long.

“The inspiration for that was a photograph of a Moon Gate I saw in China. A group of us traveled there to study with calligraphers, who taught us how to use the inks and the brushes and the rice paper,” she recalls. The discipline of calligraphy, and the concentration that “free” brushwork requires, has changed the way Belfield approaches her own work, and the way she teaches. “I teach an intuitive abstract painting class here at Artworks, and I tell my students, ‘This class may change the way you paint, and it may also change the way you live. When you open your mind to see the possibilities in paint, you may also see possibilities in life’s situations.’”

For more information on Brenda Belfield and Artworks, visit the Web site www.belfieldArtworks.com or call (703) 464 7477.

Rosemary Knower is a freelance writer based in Baltimore.

Broken pieces of glass that are fused together.


"Hidden Tiger," a two-canvas work.


A front-door panel in Belfield's house.


A stained-glass window at St. Alban's School.


"Kaleidoscope," a four-by-four foot collage.

Fused glass panels in the lobby of Holy Cross Hospital.

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