LIVERMORE -- On cloudless days, sunlight floods into artist Roberta Jones' Livermore studio through huge, roll-up glass doors that remind visitors they're in what once was a service station.
When the heat rises, Jones raises the doors, and the studio opens to become part of the comings and goings on South L Street.
Light is a necessary component for most artists, but for Jones, a stained glass specialist who also creates fused glass and glass mosaic, the rays are everything.
"Stained glass is all about the element of light," she said. "If you have no light, you have no stained glass."
Jones' business, Art Glass Studio, has been housed in the former gas station for the past three years and serves as a working studio, gift shop and a classroom for children and adults who come to learn the art of glasswork. Jones' work is on display through Wednesday at the Lindsay Dirkx Brown Art Gallery inside the San Ramon Community Center at Central Park, 12501 Alcosta Blvd., San Ramon.
The dual nature of glass -- strong yet fragile -- has fascinated Jones since she was young.
Her grandfather was a glassblower for the O-I glass company, and her father built blast furnaces, but her interest didn't strike until she took a course in making simple sun catchers.
"I got obsessed with it," she recalls. "It was all I wanted to know. I never wanted it to stop."
She left an office job in her early 20s, moved to Lake Tahoe, and took a job making sun catchers at a stained-glass studio. She apprenticed there for 18 months, learning the delicate art of cutting glass and assembling it with copper foil before opening a small shop in Truckee with a partner.
She kept the shop for a decade, creating her own stained-glass designs as well as many larger pieces for a custom homebuilder.
By the winter of 1990, Jones found herself the single parent of three young daughters, including a set of twins, and decided her home -- at a frigid 7,000 feet in Agate Bay at the north shore of Lake Tahoe -- was impractical. Having grown up in the Bay Area, she moved to Livermore -- "the cheapest place I could find to live and have a house" and took a job in Scotts Valley doing stained glass. In the quiet of the night, she'd work on her own pieces in her garage. Her employer, a master stained glass artist from the former East Germany, taught her cutting techniques, lead soldering and old-world glass painting. When the Loma Prieta earthquake damaged stained glass windows in numerous Bay Area churches, Jones found herself doing much of the repair and restoration.
"We did the big Catholic church in Watsonville, another big church in San Jose, and a lot of work on the Peninsula in San Francisco," she said.
She left the Scotts Valley job after two years and spent the next 18 balancing child-rearing with her stained-glass work. She moved into the former service station three years ago.
"My kids were growing; I became an empty-nester," Jones said. "I was waiting for my time."
Today, Jones restores, designs and creates stained glass panels and windows with an eye toward beauty and structural integrity. She has expanded her interest to include glass mosaic and fused glass pieces, including jewelry and items such as bowls and plates.
"Mosaics are very creative, and they're very hot right now," she said. "And the fusing; what you put into the kiln is not necessarily what you get out of the kiln. You have to be very patient."
Her studio is filled with hundreds of sheets of different types and colors of glass, cutting tools, a large wooden work table, student projects in various stages of completion, and, of course, the kiln.
Stained glass is a "cold process," using no heat. Mosaic work and fusion are "warm" processes, done in the kiln. To make a fused work, Jones layers various pieces of glass on top of each other to form the desired design, then heats them up to about 1,400 degrees before bringing the temperature down again. It's not an exact science.
"From start to finish, it's a process," she said. "When you start, you have a blank sheet, then you manipulate it, and it's a beautiful piece."
Roseann Kurtzer, of Livermore, has studied stained and fused glass with Jones for four years. She began with a 12-inch-square creation, and is now working on a 30-by-60-inch panel of 600 pieces of stained glass.
"Roberta keeps telling me I can do it," Kurtzer said. "Her knowledge seems phenomenal to me. She's just finished two windows with evergreen trees, and it's like you were in the forest.
"One woman came in with a huge window project, something like 1,000 pieces, and Roberta's face was lit up; she was envisioning all these colors together. Her pieces are not simple; they're very detailed."
It's that attention to detail and structure that has kept Jones mesmerized by glasswork. She avoids most newer tools and works primarily with a well-worn few: her glass cutter, which scores the glass; breaker-grozier pliers, which break the glass after scoring; and occasionally a grinder, to take off rough edges.
"I still love my work," she said. "I'm still committed to making art because a lot of people think this is a lost art. If I can teach someone to cut glass the right way, maybe they'll continue it and it won't be such a lost art."
The singular quality of Jones' glasswork was the criteria used in selecting it for the San Ramon exhibit, said Kathi Heimann, Visual and Performing Arts Program Manager for the city of San Ramon.
"Her work, being glass, is three-dimensional, very attractive, very bold and unique," she said. "Cream rises to the top, and Roberta's work really rose to the top of the group for its uniqueness and boldness. It's a really a nice opportunity to showcase mosaic art for the community."
What: Glasswork exhibit by Roberta Jones.
Where: Lindsay Dirkx Brown Art Gallery, San Ramon Community Center, 12501 Alcosta Blvd., San Ramon
When: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays through Wednesday
Details: Call gallery at 925-973-3200 for varied weekend hours.
ART GLASS STUDIO
For information on glasswork classes and events for children and adults, call 925-447-1962.