by Emma James
Seraphim Studios looks innocuous from the outside, its only distinguishing feature a portrait of an angel near the door. The inside however, is a workshop that comes alive in the evenings as students learn the ins and outs of making stained glass.
"Why Seraphim Studios? I don't really know other than I was making a lot of angels at the time," said Dee Tatum, who owns and operates the studio with her husband, Todd. "I remember having a discussion with a guy about the ranks of angels and we started talking about the seraphim. They're like the Huey helicopters of angels."
Seraphim is celebrating five years in business. The local commercial retail stained glass studio sells stained glass supplies, offers classes and takes commissions in stained glass.
The studio is set up to teach between eight and 10 students per class. Classes range from beginning leading, a six-week course that teaches all of the basic skills, to other techniques such as copper foiling, which uses adhesive copper wire to hold the glass in place, and fusing or melting layers of glass together.
"In the first leading class, we teach them how to pick their glass, cut it, assemble their piece, solder and sign their work," Todd Tatum said. "In those six weeks, we teach them essentially everything they need to know."
Dee Tatum had participated in several classes but didn't pursue it seriously until the couple started taking stained glass classes at a commercial studio in Baton Rouge, La. Dee Tatum soon began working out of a home studio as well as working for the retailer part time.
After relocating to Hattiesburg, she said realized her home space was not conductive to teaching and opened a small 500-square-foot location at Longleaf Timber on Adeline Street.
"There comes a point when you have to decide what your focus is going to be, whether you are going to teach or work from home," Dee Tatum said. "Most of the time in the studio you wind up teaching whether you mean to or not, helping people and answering questions."
The Tatums relocated the business to its current 2,000-square-foot retail location in 2003.
"When we first opened here, there wasn't any place else in this area," Todd Tatum said. "Even now, chain stores don't generally have someone on staff that have a dedication to glass."
In addition to teaching classes, the Tatums also work on commission. Their portfolio consists of residential window designs and commercial work. One of their best known projects, Dee Tatum said, is the design of new wall sconces as well as reglazing the light fixtures in the main auditorium and foyer during the Saenger Theatre's renovation in 2000.
"It's exciting to be associated with such a large project," she said. "It might not have been the prettiest job we've ever done but it was definitely one of the hardest."
The Tatums also coordinate the Pine Belt Flowers of Hope project. Based on a book by stained glass artist Denise Hurley of the same name, the project encourages local stained glass artists to create panels for breast cancer patients once a year.
The Tatums create and collect panels from other artists and display them before donating them to anonymous breast cancer patients on the first anniversary of survivorship.
"We don't know who our work goes to, but the project has been a success," she said. "Not only do we create something beautiful for someone else, it also helps create the beginnings of a group for stained glass artists. I hope that we can keep that up."
After Hurricane Katrina, most of the studio's commissions dealt with replacing what had been lost during the storm, Dee Tatum said. Now rising gas and food prices have begun to affect the business.
"What we do is not essential," he said. "It's a hobby, and when you are trying to figure out a budget, this would be one of the first things to go."
However, the Tatums also have seen an increase in class participants who want to use the hobby to save money by making Christmas presents.
"I think that you are going to get a swing toward hobbyists coming in," he said. "People who want to pursue this as a hobby and know they're going to stick with it."
Dee Tatum said she tells beginning students 'it's OK to break glass and that glass is not an easy medium to work with.'
"You aren't going to get it perfect the first time, but what's the worst that can happen? You cut a new piece and start over," she said. "If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. Glass is a very forgiving medium, but you can't force it to do something that it doesn't want to do."