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John Hamm
is a leaded and stained glass artist. He grew up in Long Beach and moved to Whittier in 1989. This is his story, as told in his own words  |  Pictures by Bethany Gilbertson

"I moved to Whittier for love which is what it comes down to. Love of architecture and love of my is the reason you should do everything in life, whether it’s self centered or reaching out to another person."

"I love Whittier. What hasn’t happened here is extreme gentrification. Not much is gentrified here and hopefully it never will. It’s changed a lot economically, it’s more expensive to live now than when I first lived here, but it’s not Silver Lake and it’s not the Westside. It’s not most places really...I like living here. It’s quiet. It’s safe. It’s off the beaten track."

"My father was an abtract expressionist painter. That’s why I do what I do, he decided that I was going to be an artist. It stuck and this is all I’ve ever done."

"The first work I sold I made in junior high school. In junior high I had a whole room to myself. The teacher recognized what I could do and just let me do whatever I wanted to do. So I made ceramics and sold them. I’ve always done something creative and I guess it's who I’ve always been. I don’t know how else to think about it. I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody who had the same kind of path that I have taken."

"At some point usually in college, you fall into a groove through the discovery of what the academic world has to offer. And I never did that. I served an apprenticeship at a studio and before that had all this pounded into me by my father. He had a specific path. I didn’t have coloring books. I had paper and paint and crayons."

"I served an apprenticeship at a studio and that’s where I fell in love with glass."

"I wanted to meet with individuals who had homes and wanted to beautify them and assist them in doing that. And that’s what I do."

"I knew I was going to leave at some point and go out on my own. And I did. The point being, that precipitated years of starving and struggle and my wife crying, begging the Edison guy not to turn off our power because we’re running kilns out of our garage. It was like that for 9 years until things really turned around. It was up and down. I had work and in that first initial period I did some huge things but consistency is tough to achieve."

"Musicians look for the instrument that is their voice. And artists, same thing. They look for the medium that’s their voice. And it might be marble or wood or paint, and for me it was glass. Light through colored glass is magic. It’s something that changes throughout the day depending on the light. It could be a window, it could be a light fixture, it could be whatever you want it. It’s a medium that you can push just like any other."

"One of the tenets of the arts and craft movement is that if you surround yourself with beauty it actually makes you a better person."

"Making something from nothing is a beautiful experience and that imparts joy. These are always simple things. The greatest joy in life is found in the most simple aspects of life. The more complicated things, the more ponderous and heavy...gets pulled down and becomes burdensome quickly. The simple expression is the best. Everybody has this ability in something. It could be mathematics but it’s still a creative exercise. I think everybody has an innate ability to do something in this realm."

"Why is it I like this is because I get my hands dirty. I design the piece. I build the piece. I get to cut the glass, grind the glass, and solder it. Soldering is fun. I get to do color work too. I use painterly techniques in a color composition or just very graphic techniques."

"People tell me all the time, ‘you’re blessed with this talent. I wish I could do that.’ Well just do’s who we are. It’s important because it leads to people like Steve Jobs, Wozniak, going into their garage and saying I could do this. People getting an electric guitar, I can do that. It’s not some high faluting academic kind of thing that seems out of reach. It’s not."

"When you wanted to hear music at one point, up until Edison, you made it. Everybody played an instrument with really no exceptions. You certainly sang. But most people played music so if you wanted to hear music, you made it."

"At my high school you could take brick laying. They still had technical classes. Well they still had wood shop and metal shop, and getting rid of that is dangerous and a huge mistake. Because this is quintessentially and fundamentally who we are as beings. We need people that can lay brick and build houses. Us striving towards being surely a leisurely culture has brought up to this point where teachers have to buy pencils and there’s no money for schools."

“I don’t think young people are not doing this, I think they are. They might be doing it in the form of tattoos which is completely legitimate and there’s a lot of tattoo artists these days. All they are, are really good artists with more guts than I have. Committing ink to skin, permanent, takes chutzpah that I don’t have. You make a mistake, you’ve got to think on your feet quickly.”

"I get to a point with a lot of pieces where I just hate it. Hate it. I want it to go away. I’m done with it. I’m sick of looking at it. It sucks. It’s the worst thing I’ve ever done. What was I thinking? The whole nine yards. Artists are notoriously the kind of people that don’t have complete confidence 100% of the time."

"I always tell people that getting into people’s home is half the fun. In LA I’ve done movie stars ever since I’ve started. The first movie star client I had was Richard Gere...I did Julia Robert’s house a few years ago. I’ve sat down and talked to Barbara Streisand an hour and a half once.”

"My wife has been my greatest muse and my biggest supporter, and changed my life. We have a great life together...she’s a strong woman, a smart woman, a creative woman. We’re well matched. We’re simpatico. You really can’t define that. You never want to live with an artist, we’re the most cranky. Mood swinging is de rigueur. But no we don’t fight, and if we do it’s usually my fault. We’ve been together for almost 30 years."

John Hamm |

Bethany Gilbertson Photography |

LF : Community is everything. This is the first in a series of conversations we're having with people around town. Who are they? Why Whittier? How do they see the world? If you know someone we should talk to, email us  |
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