Profile: Blaine Hrabi
by Sean McQuaid
Blaine Hrabi is a man of many talents- but his most unique claim to fame is the one he cites as his occupation: the manufacture and restoration of stained glass.
Hrabi got into stained glass in Halifax, where he tried his hand at restoration projects and introductory teaching under artist Jacqueline Young. Hrabi, well-versed in various crafts, found stained glass to be one of the most interesting and enjoyable mediums he had ever worked in: a field of "incredible, wonderful craftsmanship."
It's a complex and demanding but aesthetically rewarding craft. A new stained glass work begins with a design drawn to scale (and tailored to a client's specifications); you then select glass whose colours approximate those of your design (the glass comes in base colours like blue, red, and so forth). The potential colour scheme is restricted primarily to shades of the base colours, produced by layers of special stain applied to the glass. This stain can be removed to varying degrees so as to recreate the original colour or gradations thereof (a sort of reverse painting). Once the glass is stained and fired to produce the desired colours, the pieces are fused together in a frame of lead, sealed with putty, burnished, cleaned and mounted for display.
Hrabi researched and practised this arcane art for years, establishing valuable contacts on PEI through a stained glass supply store he opened in Charlottetown in 1981. Though Hrabi became a freelance glass artist in 1984 to devote more time to his growing family, it was through his store that he first met friend and longtime collaborator John Burden. Hrabi hastens to point out that Burden, whom Blaine describes as "one of the best artists on the Island," is the actual designer of their collaborations. Hrabi's interest and skills lie exclusively in the physical manufacture of the glass, working from Burden's designs.
Hrabi's favourite work of late is a solo effort: the restoration of existing stained glass. One of his most inspirational experiences has been with the ongoing restoration of Trinity United Church: he recalls a near-transcendent moment on the scaffolding, with the organ music booming all around him as he looked out at the Basilica some distance away. It's that kind of experience that, for Hrabi, makes all the hard work and dedication worthwhile.
Of course, one also has to make a living- and stained glass has proven surprisingly profitable. Hrabi marvels at how the small, close-knit nature of the Island community allows him to get to know his clientele, and says word-of-mouth has been his bread-and-butter. He and Burden have done commissions of all shapes and sizes, for clients ranging from private buyers to churches to city hall.
Still, Hrabi is, like his glass, multi-faceted. Whatever time isn't spent on his glass and his family goes into hobbies like music and acting. Hrabi is strictly a dabbler in the latter discipline, though he enjoys his forays into community theatre. As for music, Hrabi is a well-known singer and guitarist who, in collaboration with various other local musicians, has played traditional music for years- even opening for the Rankin Family at a folk festival. Hrabi, though, insists his music is "as much a social outlet as anything else. I'd probably feel more comfortable playing in somebody's kitchen than somebody's stage."
Regardless, Hrabi continues to play his many parts, careful to give each their due. "I try to create a fine balance," he says, and as long as he does his best in each pursuit, everything- like pieces of stained glass- seems to fall into place.