By Tom Dennis
Originally Published on July 19th, 2018.
Gina’s Gallery, an artists cooperative, is open in downtown Port Huron at 411 Grand River Avenue and features local artists who display a wide variety of art forms. This second in a series of articles, spotlights painter and glassworks artist Cecil Williams, one of several artists showing their work.
Cecil specializes in basically two forms of art, stained glass and paintings however, let’s start with a brief history of this man’s life and his love of art and then we’ll delve into his unique style and talents. When I sat down and began asking questions it was soon evident that Cecil is not just talented but he is also an extremely intelligent and humble individual whose life has been connected and interwoven into the art world regardless of where life decisions and circumstances led.
Born at Women’s Hospital in Detroit, Michigan in 1950 and raised in Mount Clemens, Cecil lives in North Street with Sheelah, his wife of 44 years. His experience with art started in high school when he started drawing people, still a favorite subject matter for his work. He studied a wide variety of art at Wayne State University in Detroit and earned his B.S. in Art Education in 1973. This was the first of several college degrees he would earn in various disciplines.
His introduction to, and eventual love of stained glass art began in 1973 while Cecil was student teaching art at Holly Junior High in Warren Woods, Michigan. His supervising teaching announced that the students were going to do stained glass and of course, Cecil would be handling instruction duties. That surprise act led to a lifetime study, hobby, and sometimes business career in stained glass and also fire polished glass painting, often incorporated into his stained glass art.
Due to the scarcity of teaching jobs in the mid-1970s, Cecil worked hard to find meaningful work. After substitute teaching as a junior high art teacher for one year followed by a high school chemistry the next year, he found work at the Wayne State University Library. Two years later he was a supervisor in charge of producing videotaped lessons for the Pharmacy School. This led to a growing interest in pharmacy and led to another degree and a brief three-year career as a pharmacist. This was followed by contract work and consulting for various entities including Detroit Public Schools and some large corporations and finally retirement in 2008.
Throughout his working career Cecil continued his interest of glass art and honed his skills by teaching adult education classes at Marygrove College in Detroit, Wayne State, and participated in craft shows and art exhibits at the Fischer Building and Palmer Park in Detroit as well as at many other venues. He put aside stained glass for a few years to concentrate on his paintings which found their way into many states including California, Massachusetts, and even to Germany where some are in private collections.
Shortly after moving to the Port Huron area Cecil’s love for working glass re-surfaced and he began teaching and making stained glass art once again. Now that he is retired he told me that “this is something I need to do”. And does he ever do it well! While we talked he was working on a commission piece of stained glass for a door. He skillfully worked the pieces while I watched and I am looking forward to seeing the finished product.
Cecil is truly a self-taught master craftsman who with his knowledge of the physics of the glass media and many years of experience is able to create uniquely beautiful art. Come see his glass work and paintings at Gina’s Gallery and if you are blessed to be there when he is manning the floor you may be able to catch him making magic. His current offerings include nautical art pieces finished just in time for Mackinaw Boat Week.
The gallery operates at 411 Grand River Avenue, on the ground floor of a recently renovated building located one block east of the Sperry Theaters and if you are old enough to remember, just north across the street from the long-closed SS Kresge five and dime store. The business opens daily at 11:00 AM with closing times varying at 6:00 and 9:00 PM.
Tom Dennis is a resident of Fort Gratiot where he and Laurie Melms Dennis, his wife of 45 years, tend to their bird and butterfly friendly gardens. He is a speaker and free-lance writer, passionate birder, advanced master gardener, creation scientist, and naturalist, with degrees from Michigan State University in Zoology and Biology. Tom is an active member of Blue Water Audubon Society, Master Gardeners of St. Clair County, Port Huron Civic Theater, Ross Bible Church, Tapestry Garden Club, Blueways of St. Clair, and is a steward of the Blue Water Riverwalk with Friends of the St. Clair River.