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This guy’s got glass: Detroit Lakes artist creates stories using glass and light

Fliss holds up a piece of artwork to show how the light shines through and shows the different textures of each piece of glass. He said it’s important to keep the grain of glass consistent throughout the piece. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

Doug Fliss swore that he wouldn’t try water color painting until retirement. But, he cheated this winter and took a class and has now added it to his list of artistic talents.

Making his living with stained glass, the Detroit Lakes resident also works with wood, calligraphy and graphic design.

Clearly, art and creativity is in Fliss’ veins.

“It’s nice to see it creates happiness in an otherwise mundane space,” Fliss said.

Putting the pieces together

In the late 1960s, Fliss went to college for commercial art and got a job as art director for a printing company. He partnered with friend David Hetland and had their own company, StudioWorks, in the Fargo-Moorhead area.

“We really took off with the churches,” Fliss said of their stained glass work.

Their client list grew from local to regional to national to international.

“That was really fulfilling,” he said.

Hetland passed away several years ago, and after finishing up the pieces they had started together, Fliss started his own business, Departure Designs.

“I love the independence of being on my own, going my own direction,” he said, relaxing in the screened patio area of his Floyd Lake house.

Before he ever gets to the glass part though, Fliss spends time meeting with his clients, sketching out ideas and options and getting a theme going for the project. He brings the suggestions, but it’s up to the client to make the decisions.

“They have to live with it; I move on,” he said.

After so many years with working in stained glass, he said he takes care of the installation process as well, seeing the project from start to finish.

“Doing small windows is just as rewarding as a large piece,” he said.

Besides creating new stained glass pieces — a large one can be seen in the First Lutheran Church window across from the Becker County Court House — Fliss also works on restoration of old pieces.

He said that his ability to visualize a finished piece allows him to create almost anything.

“I have always liked color and try to use it to its full advantage in everything I create,” he said.

While he specializes in liturgical and residential stained glass pieces, Fliss has been spreading his wings to include public art.

Public art pieces

In January of this year, Fliss had his first piece of public art installed at Eventide in Moorhead.

The piece includes three spheres that “represent creation from the big bang theory to the formation of the earth and its celestial home and neighbors,” the brochure says.

The three spheres also represent the trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Fliss said he wanted to keep the piece secular and welcoming to everyone regardless of beliefs, but also have it spiritual as well.

Along with the spheres, Fliss created birds to represent doves and human spirits in constant motion. They symbolize people interacting and moving toward a common goal.

Finally, the rainbow of colors throughout the spheres represents God’s promise of salvation, resurrection and rebirth.

Fliss said it was different having a public piece of artwork displayed because of the number of people who see it and can form opinions about it.

Completed projects are the best

“I get my hands on projects that’s like, ‘why did I get my hands on this project,’” he said with a laugh.

And when asked what his favorite piece is, it’s the finished ones.

“When I finish, when the window is done,” he said with a laugh. “I try to do something unique with every one.”

After years of working with glass, it can still get frustrating — and dangerous. Fliss said he keeps a lot of bandages on hand.

He also wears gloves and a mask while working because of the lead that goes between each piece of glass.

“Each project is different. They’re the same but different,” he said.

And each project leads to new people and new friendships, he said.

“I just enjoy it. I enjoy doing what I do. The people I meet are just so fantastic.”

He said his Type A personality causes him to perfect each piece, and if there is an instance when he’s struggling, he said he has a network of people to call for help.

Though times have changed and become more computerized, Fliss said he skips the computer and still does all his design and drawings by hand.

“Pencils for me are very easy,” he said, adding that he’d have to learn everything new if he were to use computers to design his works.

Art will never end

Always trying new things, besides the water color painting, Fliss is trying his hand at a mosaic glass piece as well. He’s also teaching a calligraphy class in Florida this winter.

When his grandsons come to visit, he hosts art classes with drawing, building and lettering.

“They have a great time and I have a great time. I get to use crayons. I get to use colored pencils,” he said with a laugh.

Fliss has no plans to retire from his profession because he enjoys it that much.

“When I say I’m not going to do this anymore, which will probably be never, I’ll just have to give it away,” he said of all his glass and equipment or he’ll never actually stop. He added that he couldn’t just work until the glass is gone because there will always be plenty of glass.

If the stained glass ever gets to be too much for him, though, Fliss said, “I can still design. Someone else can build it.”

Driving through town or boating around the lake, Fliss said he sees windows and “I think there are so many that could benefit from some glass.”

And though his house is filled with artwork by him and other area artists, Fliss said he still has more windows of his own to fill.

Looks like retirement is even farther off in the distance.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.