John and Mary Matchael with a recently completed piece. Photo by Will Sardinsky

For 50 years, Mary Matchael, owner of Crystal Glass Studio, has captivated glass art enthusiasts with her exquisite designs, technical skills and warm demeanor. Now, with retirement on the horizon, Matchael fondly reflects upon her fulfilling and successful career.

Growing up in the Catholic church, Matchael was surrounded by stained glass; but it was many years later, while working as legal secretary, that stained glass would pique her interest.

“I was at this little Renaissance fair and I saw this stained glass window that just talked to me,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of stained glass … but it didn’t strike me like this piece did, and I just decided that’s what I wanted to do.”

Motivated to learn, she spent weeks searching for classes, a studio and potential mentors, but she was quickly run aground by the lack of resources and artists who were protective of their methods.

“[Stained glass] wasn’t even popular back then. There were very few places where you could buy it,” Matcahel elaborated. “I got a book printed in England on how to make stained glass, and that’s how I learned to do it.”

Undeterred, the self-taught artist purchased glass from local lighting shops and began experimenting with varying techniques and rudimentary tools in her brother’s basement.

Eventually, just before Thanksgiving in 1972, the mountains beckoned Matchael east, so she packed her belongings to find new inspiration. While Matchael originally intended to land in the Front Range, a friend invited her to Carbondale and, like most Valley residents, the journey stopped downtown.

“When I walked into Carbondale, I was like, ‘Wow!’ There were other artists here that were also friendly, and actually doing it, like Jan Edwards, a potter,” she said. “I just thought that was really cool.”

With Aspen nearby, stained glass gaining in popularity and a thriving artist community, Matchael was excited by her prospects. She took up residency in the Dinkel Building where she met two other stained glass artists.

Recalling this moment in Carbondale’s history, Matchael said the group realized that with some renovation, the building could help other artists get their start. They spoke with the building’s owner at the time, Wally DeBeque, and within the year an affordable space was ready for upcoming artists like Frank Norwood, now owner of Main Street Gallery, painter John Toly and Roz Morris.

During this time, Matchael established herself as an exceptional glass artist, and started gaining recognition for her work. In 1989, she was featured on CNN’s special “Women of the Eighties” for her mountain-themed, 14-person lighted glass and steel dining room table entitled The Crystal Mountain Table. She also installed her work in the Church at Redstone, and then was hired to fill Saudi Prince Bandar Bin Sultan’s 50,000-square-foot Aspen home with her designs.

As her career took off, Matchael needed some support. She hired her husband, John Matchael, who was already helping informally, to take on sandblasting, an in-demand glass art technique.

“When I got into sandblasting, that was a whole other learning curve,” she said. “But there were a lot of people wanting that kind of work, so we had to learn how to do it.”

Matchael’s ability to bring clients’ visions to life earned her ongoing opportunities with high-profile clients like Kevin Costner, John and Anne Denver, Barbi Benton and a private individual in Switzerland who flew the Matchaels overseas to repair a broken panel while also treating them to a five-star vacation.

Notably, she also created a stunningly intricate kaleidoscope table for a private Aspen resident that was featured in the Oct. 6, 2011 issue of The Sopris Sun.

“The people come with the ideas and Mary sits and thinks about it, and says, ‘Yeah, I can do that,’” John said. “It’s been great.”

Around 1995, the couple purchased an empty lot on Weant Boulevard in Carbondale where they built a two-story studio for Matchael to work, display her art and host workshops for Valley residents.

“She has taught a lot of people how to do it,” John said. “And they’re still thriving in their own field of stained glass from when Mary taught them.”

Matchael’s list of accolades is impressive, and now she is ready to slow down and simply play with glass. “It has been such a big part of my life,” she mused. “I cannot imagine not touching a piece of glass anymore. I feel grateful.”

The Matchaels plan to stay local and will continue to own the Weant property, while also renting the front space for commercial use. Her retirement sale is ongoing and the last few pieces of her art are affordable, but moving fast. To get in touch with Matchael or to learn more about the rental, call 970-963-3227.