Give Deby Romaniw a sheet of glass, a kiln and a few moments to ponder a visual and she can turn it into a work of art you can wear or display.
Powdered glass, sheet glass and enamels are the chief tools of her trade, and she has spent the past 12 years mastering their manipulation into all sorts of jewelry and decorative items.
Her store, Deby’s Designs, 22090 Lorain Road, has been her 650-square-foot brick-and-mortar showcase since October 2019, its custom-made shelves housing her creations for viewing and for purchase.
A well-traveled fixture at art shows around the state, Romaniw fell in love at first sight with the Fairview Park storefront and thought it would make for the perfect home base.
“People would ask if I had this or that, and I had a website,” she said. “But I was driving down the street one day and there was this cute little shop 2 miles from my house and it was for lease, and I thought, well, this was the way to do this. I wanted to do classes and parties and just have a place to work and also a storefront for people to buy things as well.”
Until COVID-19 upended daily life in March, Romaniw, a North Olmsted resident who was born and raised in Saline, Michigan, had also planned to host group classes similar to those that combine painting and socializing, welcoming groups of up to eight people in a single setting. She was able to host two such events before the pandemic started limiting gatherings, and hopes to resume in the future.
“I had a group of 11 women in this tiny place last November (for a class), and I figure that’s never going to happen again,” she said. “My whole idea was to host classes and introduce people to (glass fusing) through classes, but also have another outlet to sell my pieces as well. I can comfortably fit four people, maybe six (with social distancing).”
Deby’s Designs was formerly a salon, and has since been reconstructed on its inside to house Romaniw’s work. Her husband of 20 years, Jeff, is a carpenter who once specialized in building display cases for jewelry stores. He has since built every display case and shelving unit in Deby’s store, as well as her workshop area.
The space has become even more crucial during the pandemic, as Romaniw has faced numerous art show cancellations since March. She normally sets up shop at upwards of 25 shows per year, selling a variety of fused glass items at locations ranging from Columbus to Youngstown, but she was limited to just two in 2020.
“I was all packed up and ready to go to a show in Michigan in March, then the wheels fell off and everything was shut down,” she said. “It was very disheartening. I’ve got a lot of inventory, and there were a lot of people who were looking for me. I wanted to do the shows. It took me a couple weeks to think, okay, what are we going to do. We can figure this out.”
She leaned on social media as an alternate storefront of sorts, using Facebook Live to communicate with friends, family and potential customers and sell her many creations, including earring sets, pendants, rings, trinket boxes and wine stoppers. Her mother, Jean, has also helped keep the store’s website, www.debysdesigns.net, up to date by taking and posting photos of items for sale.
“It’s all kind of just having fun and selling pieces,” Romaniw said of her Facebook Live efforts, which actually started before the pandemic hit. “I come online and have about 100 pieces, which seems like a lot, but it goes pretty quick.”
After taking a glass fusing class with a friend in Avon Lake 12 years ago, Romaniw found her new passion. She’d spent much of her life creating jewelry, primarily using beads. But the art of shaping glass into jewelry got her creative juices flowing. She bought her first kiln and eventually started familiarizing herself with coldworking, which involves layering the glass one piece at a time and fusing it in the kiln.
Once the glass items started selling at art shows, she moved away from beading and bought a bigger kiln. With different techniques she’s gathered over the years, she’s figured out how to take 10-by-10 or 4-by-4 glass sheets, cut them into tiles, shape them into those pendants and other items, and layer them into intricate works, firing some pieces up to five times in the kiln at 1,400 degrees.
One of her well-known flourishes is her use of area city skylines, such as Cleveland’s and Akron’s, that are black enamel decals layered into the glass.
When it comes to anything she makes, fun comes first. When customers come into the store or take a class, she wants them to enjoy a unique form of art in a safe environment.
“Creativity helps keep our sanity, so I want people to come here and feel at home and take it all in,” Romaniw said. “And I want to teach people how to do this and enjoy it. My big thing is to dream, create and inspire. I want to keep people positive.”
Romaniw said she enjoyed a successful holiday shopping season, but knew that not all small businesses in the area were as lucky, even dating back to the spring. Her hope is that residents will continue to shop local to keep establishments like hers going through such a trying time.
“We’re trying to keep the money here,” she said. “There’s so many mom-and-pop places that are going out of business and it’s so sad. We need to take care of each other. I support all of my fellow artists. We’re constantly sharing each other’s websites on Facebook or sharing where we’re going to be, or advertising for each other. We’ve got to help each other or we’re not going to be here.”
Deby’s Designs is open from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursdays and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays. To see more of her work, visit @debysdesigns on Facebook or debysdesigns on Instagram.
Contact this reporter at email@example.com or 440-871-5797.