Covington resident Cheria Veal understands light - how it strikes her stained-glass pieces and is reflected and altered into shimmering patterns of color on the walls and floor.
Veal loves her work and speaks excitedly as she fits the pieces of glass into place. Each piece has its own unique color and texture and each creates a different affect.
Sitting against the wall, some of the darkest glass barely seems able to let light pass through, but when the pieces are exposed to direct sunlight, the richness of the colors suddenly appears and the glass become a translucent show of a spectrum of hues.
Those dark, rich pieces are among Veal's favorite and many will await a special use, such as the dark green oval piece which becomes a rich array of green and blue when exposed to light and will serve as the shell of a turtle for a friend's window.
"You get (a piece) made and stand it in the window to see light come through and it's the most beautiful thing," Veal said. "You never know when you're making it how it will look until you get it in the window and see the light coming through. Without light, it's nothing, but with light it's incredible."
Veal has painstakingly put together stained-glass art for more than 25 years, but life isn't always full of light.
Veal's husband Bob, passed away in 2007. Suddenly, the world seemed a little darker. Veal sold a few of her items, but gave most of them away and closed up shop.
Without her inspiration, making stained glass seemed to lose its purpose.
Bob was a window man. He sold all sorts of building materials to local businesses and was great at working with wood. But he absolutely loved stained glass and always wanted to start a stained-glass making business. He used to buy pieces from a fourth generation family business in Atlanta, but the finished pieces were and are very expensive.
However, Bob remembered a few award-winning sketches his wife had shown him from her childhood days.
"I never intended to make a living in art, but he picked up on (my talent) and saw I could do it," Veal said.
So, in 1986, she became the fledgling artist for the new business, after taking a five-week course on the art form from a stained-glass school in Conyers. Her husband helped teach her the rest.
"He knew all about windows. Without him, I would have never done this," said Veal.
The couple originally started a mill shop in Oxford, but eventually moved into stained-glass window making full time, a business that boomed leading up to and during the housing explosion. The couple spent 25 years crafting pieces which were installed in homes, business and churches all around the county. Bethlehem Baptist, one of the oldest black church bodies, displays 18 pieces of the Veal's work in its sanctuary. BB&T's downtown location also displays a skylight in its ceiling, which was installed when the building housed the prominent Bank of Covington.
The husband and wife team became so popular they would sometimes be booked up for a year at a time. Veal became so good at her craft she could make a stained-glass piece in a single day.
"It was all because of our faith of God. We gave up our jobs in Atlanta and God took us through," Veal said.
Though she'd been thinking about starting up again recently, she needed a spark to rekindle her passion.
An article in The Covington News about the revival of talks for a long-awaited civic center provided the inspiration she needed.
"It was like God and Bob saying don't keep wasting yourself, just go to it and see what happens," Veal said.
If a civic center ever does come to Covington, Veal knows there will be an opportunity for local artists to show off their talents and she hopes she is one of them who gets an opportunity.
So she set shop back up in the log cabin building off U.S. Highway 278 that she's owned for years. In the meantime, it housed an antiques dealer, but Veal is going to turn it back into a full-time studio.
She never thought she'd teach, but as she and Bob got up in years and Bob became increasingly ill, she knew it was time to pass on her knowledge. She taught 53 students before Bob's death.
Now, she's looking forward to becoming a teacher once again and she already has three prospective students.
"It's been a dying art since we have gotten into it for more than 25 years. We knew that. God was with us, and it was the perfect time to get into it, make all these windows and retire. But now, I don't want to retire," she said. "It's so special. I've talked to hundreds and thousands of people who think it's so special that they want to learn it. Everybody who I teach feels like they are a part of it, to keep it going.
"I had customers, some were 80 years old, they had all the diamonds and cars and houses they could ever dream of, but they never had any stained glass. When we would make it for them, they would cry and hug me and get so emotional. It made me so complete to see the satisfaction of all these people."
Veal loves Covington, the town she's called home for 40 years, and she's decided she's not done giving back and not done sharing her husband's legacy.
"I'm anxious to do this work again. My friends say I'm wasting myself if I don't. It's a good thing to feel my time," said Veal.
If anyone is interested in taking classes with Veal, commissioning a piece for a front door, cabinet or other use or learning more, contact her at (770) 366-9185.