‘Stronger than you think’: Making stained glass while recovering from COVID-19
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Haley Lugers is resilient and so is the art she creates. She makes stained glass art and while she’s dropped her glass sheets before, she says something that looks so fragile can be stronger than you’d expect.
It’s only fitting that her designs evoke powerful Alaska images with stained glass earrings in the colors of Seward’s harbor or her favorite fields of fireweed. Her art is inspired by Alaska icons from salmon to mountains, but her path to the medium was a difficult one.
In January, Lugers was working four different jobs. After the first COVID-19 cases were reported in Alaska, she lost all of them.
As hunker down orders went into effect, Lugers took time at home to reconnect with making stained glass. She had taken an introductory stained glass course at Matanuska-Susitna College in 2018 as a respite from the STEM-heavy classes she was taking while pursuing her degree in biological sciences at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
Stained glass became her artistic outlet and a handy skill for making family and friends heartfelt gifts. This past year, she was overloaded with a fast-paced schedule bouncing between a full-time university course load and working up to 50 hours a week. Her stained glass hobby was put on the back burner. When the pandemic happened, she was forced to change pace.
“It gave me a chance to slow down and kind of think about, ‘Hey this is a time that I can start doing things that I love doing,’” Lugers said. “I have the time and the availability now, so that’s why I started getting back into glass again.”
She made a couple of pieces that reminded her of home — a sunflower and a salmon — and she posted them on Instagram under the name of her new business: Susitna Stained Glass.
The next week, she tested positive for COVID-19.
“I never expected it to happen to me,” Lugers said.
She had just started her business and it was doing well. All of the pieces she had posted for sale on her Instagram had sold out and people were asking for special commissions. At the same time, she was grappling with her diagnosis. She had been working as an emergency room medical scribe and she wondered if that’s how she came in contact with the virus.
The virus made Lugers extremely tired, but she was relieved when her family members received negative test results.
“I have to put everything on hold until I get better and that was very stressful,” Luger said. “Like a lot of people have been going through that on every level and every field and I was lucky enough where I had so many people that still supported me that were willing to wait until I was better again.”
She’s continuing to make pieces while recovering from COVID-19. Some days are better than others, but many days are still fatiguing.
“COVID was just a total curveball I wasn’t expecting and is just a continual recovery every day,” Lugers said. “I’d say I’m about 80%. Some days it’s better, some days it’s worse. I just hope it keeps getting better from here.”
She’s shared parts of her story with her customers. Sometimes it was out of necessity; she had to put some of her orders on hold because she didn’t want to risk spreading the virus by mailing her art. To her surprise, people took it in stride.
“I think people realize these are very strange times we’re in and everyone is just — when you put yourself out there — that vulnerability, I think people really start to see you as a person behind a screen,” Lugers said.
As she works through her latest round of custom requests, Lugers said she will soon release another themed earring collection. Her earrings sell for $20 and capture the shades of her hometown of Palmer.
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