Inspired by an Old Farmstead

A talented glass artist and her husband transform an old farmhouse to a home and a horse barn to a studio.

"When I try to describe the setting here," artist Shandra McLane says about her corner of the Lakes Region, "I always think of the word magical." Indeed, the views of Newfound Lake and Mount Cardigan provide an inspiring, expansive place for creative work.

Shandra lives with her husband Ben and their three children in a house that is two centuries old. In the converted horse barn outside, she makes colorful, fused glass bowls. Layer by layer, she builds the bowls in a kiln. Each piece requires a number of firings, with heat and gravity gently pressing the multicolored glass pieces into their curved shapes. Some firings take two days, so each finished piece takes about a week to produce.

"Shandra's work is stunning-she's a craftsperson with a really good eye," says Sarah Chaffee, owner of McGowan Fine Art in Concord where Shandra's bowls were recently on exhibit. "The color is what drew me in at first, and the forms are really quite graceful."

Before working in glass, Shandra was a print maker. Her first exposure to fused glass came at the Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle. As the school's print shop coordinator, she assisted students who are learning the technique of vitreography-making prints with a glass matrix. But with the multitude of glass techniques available at the renowned glassmaking school, Shandra fell in love with fusing glass. Eventually, she was able to acquire her own kiln and adopt some of the techniques she learned in Seattle. "Light, color, form and texture," Shandra says, "are combined at their essential core." The result is something that is at once delicate and bold.

Shandra returned to Pilchuck in the summer of 2012 as the print shop coordinator, and just before that, she was named by New Hampshire Magazine as one of seven of our state's "remarkable women in the arts."

The farmhouse's history

There is a lively contrast between Shandra's contemporary glass art and her surroundings. She grew up in the Bay Area but then married a man from New Hampshire. The McLanes' home, which Shandra and Ben have occupied and lovingly restored for a dozen years, was built around 1790. When the McLanes began work on the property, they took the time to look into the house's past. For the first century and a half, the house seems to have passed from one farming family member to another. Then, around 1950, the house passed into the possession of a Massachusetts family who used it as a summer getaway and bible camp.

"The house was stuffed with furniture and beds when we got it," Ben recalls. He and his father spent several years renovating the house so it would be suitable and comfortable for year-round residence.

In typical Yankee fashion, the old farmhouse had been built with miscellaneous, sometimes scavenged materials. In one room on the second floor, Ben found distinctive wide pine boards that had been moved from another structure. Some of the cross braces had old wallpaper stuck to them. And a few sturdy, old chestnut boards had once been singed before becoming part of the house.

"When you're taking down walls in a house this old," Ben says, "there's always the hope of finding treasure." What he found were two beautiful 1870s posters, advertising the Plymouth fair, pasted onto wooden planks.

Blending old and new

The real treasure of the home is the eclectic combination of old beams and contemporary art. Shandra's collection of glasswork is lit by the light that pours in off of the lake.

"We stayed somewhat historically sensitive," Ben says. "We tried to leave as much alone as we could." In places, achieving this goal was a challenge. The camp kitchen-a narrow galley with miniature appliances-needed updating to make it suitable for a growing family's use. The McLanes were able to push an exterior wall out by eight feet, doubling the width of the kitchen space as well as allowing room for an island prep space, cooktop and seating area. Some of the improvements were less exciting but just as important. Many windows needed replacement, and the home needed substantial insulation.

"Instead of fighting the old plaster walls, I covered them with a suede-textured paint," Shandra says. The dining room paint, in a rich forest green, contains a fine grit. "We used texture to our benefit, instead of focusing on every flaw. We love this house like a member of our family."

Her studio in the converted horse barn required a reinforced floor, winterization, an updated electrical supply and lighting. "It was a two-stall barn, and now one stall is an office and one a library," she says. The doors open out toward the fields. "It is tranquil and beautiful," Shandra says. "This place is a source of inspiration to me in so many ways."

Categories: Artwork and Design