We visited Jodie Mae, a lead and stained glass artist based in Naarm. A recent convert to the art of glass, Jodie Mae has solidified her career through the work she's done on The Keys in Preston, a 600-person venue featuring bowling alleys, bars, and an arcade.
For those of us who don’t know who you are – tell us about what you do.
Hello! I’m Jodie Mae (she/her) I’m a recovering fine arts student who’s tried many different careers (textbook Gemini) but now happily landed on lead lighting and stained glass. For the first half of the week I'm in my glass studio and for the second I'm a Bartender in the city. I’m half Maltese and live up to every stereotype that comes with that. I grew up on Sydney’s bushy north shore but have lived in Melbourne for about 8 years now!
How can we find you/ check out your work?
You can find me online @leadlevels, you can find a big chunk of my work at The Keys Leisure Centre in Preston, and you will likely find me in person sitting in Carlton Gardens.
How did you go about becoming involved with glass?
I was working as a writer a few years ago in a 9 to 5. It came as no surprise that I was in no way built for that life lol. Trying to push myself to fit into a structure that didn't work for me eventually took it’s toll on my mental health. During one of our many lockdowns my landlord passed away in my backyard and I though fuck it, life’s truly too short to not be doing what you love!!! I quit my job that week and vowed to do anything that made me happier.
When I was little my mum did lead lighting as a hobby. She told me recently that she used to walk me to school in the mornings, come home, build windows and lamps on our ping pong table out back, then walk back to pick me up from school. Being around it meant I was always curious but it seems it had more effect on me than I realised!
I was googling my childhood home in one of my unemployed procrastination spirals and saw a photo of the lead light window my mum had built and installed there, I instantly googled lead lighting courses in Melbourne, found what is essentially the only one, and signed up on the spot.
What has been hard about working in glass?
The toxicity of the materials. Regular exposure to lots of lead is not ideal. Luckily where I studied put a huge emphasis on the safety of working with these materials, something which many old lead lighters don’t even know is a risk. I get regular blood tests to maintain my lead levels and have a bunch of different products and procedures to reduce the amount in my blood. Luckily it's safe and manageable if you stay on top of it. You will also cut yourself no matter how good, clean, or careful you are. You will bleed all over every template and tool in sight. All the fun stuff in life is a little dangerous anyway right?
What did you want to be ‘when you grew up’? and what inspired that?
A cheerleader for the Paramatta eels, a Pop star, Po the red Teletubbie, a Ballerina, a Chef, an Artist, I'm sure there was more. I was always interested in creativity and used to leave a trail of craft creations (see also: rubbish) behind me everywhere I went. Most importantly my parents always told me as long as I was happy it didn't matter what I did. That inspired me a lot and gave me the freedom to trial and error so many things without feeling the pressure to conform to a particular path.
What brings you joy in your work?
Tactility. Lead lighting is such a hands on medium. It’s humbling and challenging but insanely rewarding. I’m obsessed with the way a material can be so gentle but so brittle, so strong but also smash on you in a second. The way colours and light cast by glass has historically had such an effect on people and importance in ancient societies never ceases to inspire me!
What has been one of your favourite/most rewarding projects that you’ve worked on?
My first job out of Tafe was to build and install about 40 metres of custom curved lead lighting at The Keys Leisure Centre. To be given the chance to work on a project of such scale with total trust, support, and freedom to figure it out as I went was a once in a career sorta chance that I owe completely to the owners there. Cutting my teeth on the job site surrounded by other creatively inclined and talented tradies who have all honed their crafts meant I learnt years worth of tricks in one! Seeing it come together is a bit of a fever dream!
What do you want to see more of in the spaces you work?
Youth and diversity! Lead lighting is an old school profession that is often carried by people in the later stages of their lives. It’s something that is so beautifully taught and passed on and I hope that’s something we are about to see explode onto the scene a bit.
In Melbourne alone there's a small community of us who all know each other and help each other out. With social media it's definitely starting to grow even further. This generation is bringing so much more to the craft.
With deeply traditional often Eurocentric and religious roots it's so exciting to see a far more diverse range of people dip their toes into the trade and start to tell some of the important stories we haven't yet heard through stained glass.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to turn their creativity into a trade or business?
There's so much pressure to commodify your “side hustle” or creative pursuits with not enough talk about how much that can mess with your head and inspiration. Having a day job for me means that even though lead lighting is my main focus it hasn't lost it’s magic under the pressure of having to make an income.
The best advice I was given by a fellow creative was to not rush, compare, or get caught up in the race for fame and glory. It’s so easy to feel like you’re failing if you’re not instantly viral or instantly selling out. Remind yourself to play the long game and don’t diss the day job!!
What would be your DJ name?
DJ Pane In The Glass
Jodie Mae works from her studio on unceded land of the Boon Wurrung and Woiwurrung (Wurundjeri) peoples of the Kulin Nation.
You can find them on Instagram here!
Shot by On Jackson Street