Sitting beneath the “Northern Lights” at Balloons Restaurant and Night Club, Mat Snyder is talking about antlers.
Any time spent talking to Snyder will inevitably lead to stained glass or antlers, two specialized trades that have helped — and in many ways defined — his identity throughout the Ellicottville area over the years.
The “Northern Lights” above him, in this case a sprawling 32-panel stained glass sculpture tucked above the bar, shone softly down on the dozens of bottles of spirits. Ribbons of blues, reds and yellows twist together to create a flow, an effect that Snyder tries to incorporate in almost all of his stained glass work.
“Color and light are energy,” Snyder said, speaking in words and phrases universal among artists committed to their medium. “The best part about creating a work is that, when it’s done, it looks like it belongs there.”
In this case, the “Northern Lights” piece doesn’t attract as much attention as some might believe it would, and that pleases Snyder.
“People will come in and look at it and say they’ve been coming in here for years and didn’t notice it,” he said. “That’s what I wanted. I wanted it to flow from what was already here.”
Since committing himself professionally to the art of stained glass and antler work at the age of 25, Snyder has made a name for himself throughout the village and surrounding areas. In some ways, his name was already part of the community because of his mother, who owned and operated the Ellicottville Glass Shop for years.
Snyder, who said he learned all he ever learned about stained glass from his mother, was transfixed by the process of turning glass into living pictures at a young age. Moving from Buffalo to the Ellicottville area with his family in 1980, Snyder learned to manipulate glass as early as 6 years old. He started created original work at 11.
As he grew older, he fell into other interests, specifically cooking. He learned to be a chef and worked in that field for a time. But glass continued to call and inspire him.
“I played with it over the years, even when I wasn’t doing it seriously,” he said.
In his mid-20s, Snyder got serious. He started making larger and larger pieces, crafting his art in earnest while holding down other jobs. It wasn’t until he reached 26 that Snyder began making a decent living making stained glass and antler chandeliers.
Now 38, Snyder has sprinkled the village with original work, some of which are located in local restaurants. Homeowners, hearing word of his talents, continue to commission him to build stained glass pieces for their private homes.
Using a small bedroom as his private studio, Snyder works as quickly as he can. A larger piece, like “Northern Lights,” can take months. But all creations share a similarity: They start off on beverage napkins and most, if not all, are abstract in concept.
Two new pieces have been installed at Balloons. Located in facing corners, they appear as lanterns, illuminating the dark wood and adding a dimension that is, ultimately, a continuation by design of the “Northern Lights” a few feet away.
“If you look closely, the reds that end on the ceiling panel above the bar continue on the new pieces,” Snyder said, waving his hands to replicate the way in which the ribbons twist and turn. “It all fits together.”
And since Snyder’s love of glass began with a parent, he is keeping tradition. His son, Gabriel, 9, is showing interest in the art.
“He’ll start foiling in about a week,” Snyder said with a smile. “He loves doing it, and what’s cool is how when we design something together, his looks so different than mine. Still beautiful, just different.”
Stained glass isn’t a cheap hobby. While he has been purchasing supplies from the same seller for years, costs continue to rise. Ten years ago, a case of lead was about $80; the same case is now $200.
Still, he makes his business work. Partnering with local artist Brant Davis, they purchase antlers in bulk, as much as 500 pounds at a time. Truthfully, antler pieces are in higher demand, Snyder said, likely because of cost. With a difficult economy, stained glass, in whatever size, is expensive and considered an extreme luxury.
So Snyder will just keep doing what he’s been doing— traveling from place to place on the breath of word of mouth and modest advertising, creating where he can.
“I just wanna keep making cool pieces,” he said.
For more information, contact Snyder at (716) 244-1960 and/or visit him on Facebook at Ellicottville Glass Shop.