Listen to Learn:
David Soos was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1949. A move to Arkansas during his Air Force enlistment from 1968 to 1972 started David on his path in stained glass. While stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base, he spent most of his free time at the Arkansas Arts Center, enrolled in classes of many different media including, ceramics, sculpture, and glass blowing. The glass blowing experience led to his interest in stained glass. After his Air Force discharge, he returned to Cleveland and enrolled in classes at a local stained glass studio. He returned to Arkansas in 1974 and was self-employed in stained glass for a year, then worked for another studio, Mashburn Stained Glass, before opening his own business in 1979, a 5,000-square-foot studio with a full range of stained glass services.
David was also a faculty member at the Arkansas Arts Center for five years and has had his work exhibited in many juried museum shows over the years.
Up In Your Business is a Radio Show by FlagandBanner.com
[00:00:08] GM: Welcome to Up In Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Through storytelling and conversational interviews this weekly radio show and podcast offers listeners an insider's view into the commonalities of successful people and the ups and downs of risk taking. Connect with Kerry through her candid, funny, informative and always encouraging weekly blog. And now it's time for Kerry McCoy to get all up in your business.
[00:00:33] KM: Thank you, son, Gray. My guest today is Mr. David Soos of Soos Stained Glass in North Little Rock, Arkansas, and has done what many an artist longed to do, turned their art into an income-producing business. Soos Stained Glass founded in 1979 creates products that are handmade and rooted in history and tradition by craftsmans and their apprentices their products are designed to last hundreds of years and provide enjoyment for generations to come. All these qualities are a rarity in our current capitalist economy that rewards short-term gains and disposable consumerism. It was the late 60s, early 70s when David, a former Ohioan, was transferred and stationed at the Little Rock Air Force Base. During his free time he took classes at the Arkansas Art Center where he fell in love with glass blowing and this led to his interest in stained glass.
After serving his country, Mr. Soos seuss returned to Arkansas in pursuit of his craft. In 1979 he opened Soos Stained Glass and the rest is history, or should I say made for history. David's works are as far away as a museum in Germany, a church in Florida or as close as a friend's stained glass front door. Nothing too large or too small when you are doing something you love.
It is my great pleasure to welcome to the table artist, entrepreneur and teacher, Mr. David Soos.
[00:02:01] DS: Thank you very much.
[00:02:03] KM: David, that's an interesting name, Soos.
[00:02:07] DS: It's Hungarian.
[00:02:08] KM: I was going to say. Do you know what it is? Let me spell for my people that are my listeners. It's S-O-O-S.
[00:02:14] DS: Yes. I have had people ask me say, “Gee! You don't look Chinese.”
[00:02:18] KM: Oh, it does – I didn't think about that being a Chinese –
[00:02:21] DS: They think it's oriental, but it's Hungarian. And I’ve been told in Hungary it's as common as Smith.
[00:02:26] KM: Soos is as common as Smith in Hungry.
[00:02:28] DS: Smith, yeah.
[00:02:29] KM: Well, I’ll be darn. Well, let's start at the beginning. You came to know Little Rock, Arkansas because you were stationed at the Little Rock Air Force Base.
[00:02:37] DS: Yes. When I got my orders to come here I knew absolutely nothing about Arkansas. All I had is growing up in a large city in Ohio, up north.
[00:02:49] KM: Cleveland.
[00:02:51] DS: Yea, in Cleveland. I expected everybody to look like Snuffy Smith in the comic strips, which dates me a little bit. But overall, I knew I had a cousin lived here somewhere and of course I knew about Central High School, but that was really all I knew about the state. And when I was driving over here for the first time I was coming across from Memphis and I thought, “Well, where are the Ozarks?” It was all flat, but I came to really love it here.
[00:03:23] KM: Yeah, you did, because you came back.
[00:03:24] DS: Yeah.
[00:03:26] KM: So how did your decision to join the Air Force come about? You're an artist. Did you always have an artist bend?
[00:03:31] DS: Well, yeah. I mean, when I was in high school I was one of the kids with the great potential who didn't apply himself.
[00:03:39] KM: Oh, yeah. That's an artist.
[00:03:40] DS: Yeah. So I spent most of my high school career in art class and then I took other sundry things like service station management and vending machine repair and vocational type things. But then it was either – Once I graduated I either had the choice of getting drafted at that time or in list.
[00:04:03] KM: Because it was the Vietnam War?
[00:04:04] DS: Yeah, right. It's 1968. So I decided to enlist and join the Air Force.
[00:04:10] KM: Was your family military?
[00:04:11] DS: No. My dad was a landscaper and my mother was just a homemaker and really had no military – Well, my father was in the army in World War II like most people that era.
[00:04:27] KM: So artist and military service do not at first seem to go together. Can you tell us about the juxtaposition of being an artist and being in the Air Force? How did that align with your fellow airmen? What did they think about you?
[00:04:41] DS: I don’t know that it had – Of course, in the military, you learn a set of values when you're in the military for hard work, chain of command military, just military life, period. Just kind of no excuses you get the job done. So that. And I didn't really do anything in the service that was artistic. I repaired radio equipment when I was in the service.
[00:05:10] KM: But when you were here you decided. I guess you learned about the Arkansas Art Center and decided I want to start taking classes over there.
[00:05:16] DS: Yeah, I did. The Arkansas Art Center really helped me sort of get my start in an art career. I took classes in ceramics from Rosemary Fisher. I took sculpture classes. And about I think it was like 1971 they offered a glassblowing class there and they set up this thing as kind of a one-time workshop and then it became kind of an ongoing part of the curriculum there for a while. And I visited the fellow that had come and done the workshop. His name was Boris Dichenko. He was from Pittsburgh. And he had a big collection of old windows that he had bought in the early 60s in Pittsburgh when they were doing a lot of urban renewal and tearing down lots of neighborhoods and you could buy. At that time you could buy an old window for ten, twenty dollars that today would cost you ten thousand dollars to have it replicated.
[00:06:15] KM: A stained glass window?
[00:06:16] DS: Yeah. So I was visiting with him and I saw his collection of these windows and that's really the first time I’d ever paid attention to stained glass. And after I got out of the service I went back to Cleveland for about a year or two and I took a class from a studio that was there and kind of got started out as a hobbyist and then sort of mushroomed. And I came back to Arkansas, thought I knew everything, and started to do little craft shows and some various things. Did some repair work on some of the old houses in the Quail Park quarter, restoration work. Did just a number of things. I even painted billboards for a while. And then I got a job at a studio that used to be in North Little Rock, a gentleman named Eli Mashburn, Mashburn Stained Glass. and I worked for him for about four years. I did a year in the artisan schools program.
[00:07:19] KM: Artisan schools program.
[00:07:20] DS: Artisan schools program. It was like a resident artist program through the Arkansas Arts Council at that time. And I lived in Crossett for a year and came back, worked for him for another year and then got real cocky and thought I knew everything and I broke off and opened my own business.
[00:07:41] KM: Why do you laugh when you say I thought I knew everything?
[00:07:43] DS: Well, I thought I knew everything. It's the ignorance of youth sort of thing. You get that youthful confidence and I thought, “Well, I’ve got a house with a mortgage. I got a one-year-old son and a wife and I think I’ll just quit my job and borrow seven thousand dollars from my uncle and start a business.” I didn't have a clue really. We set it up. I got a job but they are the part-time position at the Art Centers of teaching classes in stained class. And we started out just kind of doing small jobs, residential jobs. I taught classes. We sold supplies and that kind of thing and then just sort of bumbled along. I didn't uh I didn't really know anything about business. I took a workshop one time in financial management for the closely held small business and the guy, this speaker at it said that most people start their own business because they've either lost their job or they've got some skill that they're good at, and so they started. And they don't come from a business background. They don't have MBA degrees or anything like that.
[00:09:06] KM: And that was you.
[00:09:07] DS: That was me.
[00:09:08] KM: And that was me.
[00:09:10] DS: I’m still not much – All I know about business is if there's money in the checking account and the bills are paid it's okay. But you can show me an account to say, “Well, it's all right here on the ledger sheet and this and that, and profit and loss statements and et cetera, et cetera.” And it's just like right over my head –
[00:09:32] KM: Does your wife work with you?
[00:09:34] DS: She did for a while when we were starting out early. She’s in the studio.
[00:09:39] KM: This is a great place to take a break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with David Soos, founder of Stained Glass in North Little, Rock Arkansas. Still to come, the founding story of Soos Stained Glass. We're going to hear how long it took before he was able to support himself without working a part-time job. The history tradition and craft of glassblowing, we're going to learn about that. Apprenticeship and nepotism in the workplace and about his art where you might see his work, what was his largest commission and who are his biggest customers? We'll be back after the break.
[00:10:14] GM: You're listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy, a production of flagandbanner.com. Over 40 years ago with only four hundred dollars, Kerry founded Arkansas Flag and Banner. During the last four decades the business has grown and changed along with Kerry’s experience and leadership knowledge. In 1995 she embraced the internet and rebranded her company as simply flagandbanner.com. In 2004 she became an early blogger. Since then she has founded the non-profit Friends of Dreamland Ballroom. Began publishing her magazine, Brave, and in 2016 branched out into this very radio show, YouTube channel and podcast. And today, in 2020, Kerry McCoy enterprises acquired ourcornermarket.com, an online company specializing in American-made plaques, signage and memorials for over 20 years. If you'd like to sponsor this show or get involved with any of Kerry McCoy's enterprises, send an email to me, Gray, at email@example.com. Telling American-made stories, selling American-made flags, the flagandbanner.com. Back to you, Kerry.
[00:11:24] KM: Thank you, Gray. You're listening to Up In Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy, and I’m speaking today with Mr. David Soos. That's Hungarian y'all. Founder, artisan and teacher of Soos Stained Glass in North Little Rock, Arkansas. So before the break we talked about how David, an Ohioan from Cleveland who's in the Air Force ended up coming to Jacksonville, Arkansas at the Little Rock Air Force where he enlisted and got stationed during the Vietnam War and ended up taking classes at the Arkansas Arts Center where he fell in love with the artistry of glassblowing and stained glass.
So let's talk more about starting such a unique business, the art of glassblowing and making stained glass. Starting your business, did the business just kind of evolved? It sounds like to me it wasn't like it was a light bulb moment. It just kind of you were working for the Mashburn Stained Glass studio and thought, “I can just go out and do this.” And did you start it in your home?
[00:12:23] DS: Yeah. Even when I worked for Mr. Mashburn, my wife and I used to do craft shows kind of as a side gig and we would set up and we'd do probably five or six shows and we'd make little sun catchers and things that we'd take to shows and did that as a sideline while I was working for him. And then I after I left there we rented a storefront down in Levy on Pike Avenue and that was it. That was our full-time job.
[00:13:01] KM: So how long did it take? A lot of people ask me how long it took for me to get Arkansas Flag and Banner off the ground, and it was nine years. I waited tables for nine years. How long did it take for you to get your business off the ground?
[00:13:11] DS: We had sort of a negative balance sheet for quite a few years. I don't remember.
[00:13:18] KM: Did the Arkansas Art Center gig where you were teaching help supplement your income?
[00:13:22] DS: A little bit, but you just got paid for so many hours a week whatever you were teaching. It wasn't really enough to live on for most of the faculty there at that time. I don't know what it's like now, but we were part-time just for the hour.
[00:13:39] KM: So I have heard from so many entrepreneurs that the money that they – And if you go to a workshop, but I’ve heard it, the money that they need to start a business comes from family and friends. It happened to me. It happened to you. And that that is the best place to look for money. A lot of people don't realize that when you're getting ready to start a business. Your family and friends know you, believe in you and will give you money because they love you basically.
[00:14:04] DS: Yeah.
[00:14:05] KM: What?
[00:14:06] DS: Oh. Yeah, I mean, that was the case with us. My uncle printed us some money and of course we started out. It was pretty low budget thing. I think our rent on the building was something like $200 a month or something at that time. So seven thousand dollars went a long way.
[00:14:23] KM: You know, that's a lot of money back then in 1979.
[00:14:26] DS: It was. I don't know what that would be today, probably three or four times that amount.
[00:14:31] KM: So let's talk about. How many employees do you have now?
[00:14:35] DS: I did have five employees. We had two laid off because of COVID.
[00:14:43] KM: Really?
[00:14:43] DS: Yeah. Yeah, primarily because of COVID. It's been a pretty grim year for us.
[00:14:52] KM: I wouldn't think that that would affect stained glass.
[00:14:54] DS: Yeah. Well, our main customers are churches.
[00:14:58] KM: Oh, that's right.
[00:14:59] DS: So about 80% of our sales during the year are churches. So people are attending church in-person. Something needs attention or they want to change the looks of the sanctuary. All that stuff has gotten kind of tabled. And funding's down. So it's really hurt us badly this year.
[00:15:23] KM: Let's talk about the art of glassblowing.
[00:15:28] DS: Well, I’m not involved in that anymore. That was more or less where I just kind of got my –
[00:15:34] KM: Don't you have to do it somewhat though at your place?
[00:15:37] DS: No. Not for what we do. We don't really manufacture any glass per se. We buy all the glass, our material in the different colors and textures.
[00:15:48] KM: But I thought one of the people at your place, maybe Lynn Fitzgerald, was a painter of glass.
[00:15:55] DS: We use that term – If you go into church and you see windows that have figures and scenes and that kind of thing, that's done by a hand painting process that is just applied to the glass. It's fired in a keel. So that's where the term painted comes from.
[00:16:17] KM: So is everything in a stained glass window, is it little pieces of glass?
[00:16:26] DS: Yeah.
[00:16:27] KM: But yet you're saying some of it is hand painted.
[00:16:28] DS: Well, when you paint the glass you’re not really adding color to it. It's more or less like you're just doing a delineation or shading –
[00:16:37] KM: Or putting eyes on somebody.
[00:16:39] DS: Yeah.
[00:16:39] KM: I gotcha.
[00:16:41] DS: Toenails and –
[00:16:41] KM: The little small stuff. So you've got the flesh colored face up there, which is the glass, and then you're going to go in and put the little details on.
[00:16:48] DS: Right. You paint the hair, you paint all that. Occasionally you add some color. There is some work that's done with colored enamels, but by and large all the color comes from the glass itself.
[00:17:05] KM: So teaching and apprenticeship. In many ways you're still teaching because you have apprenticeship.
[00:17:16] DS: Yeah. I did have one young man that was working for me. Been there for a couple years and I had to lay him off because of COVID. But everybody else that's working for me.
[00:17:35] KM: So the ups and downs of owning your own business you've just talked about a lot because the COVID has set you back. I think a lot of people don't realize that when you own your own business it can be – You can have a great year and then you can have a bad year. Do you like the idea of recommending other people to go into the stained glass business? It seems like a very unusual business.
[00:18:01] DS: Yeah, it is, it is. It’s kind of a weird business. It's about one or two percent creativity and the rest of it is just work.
[00:18:11] KM: Really?
[00:18:13] DS: Yeah. We do everything from working off boom lifts. I have a contractor's license in the State of Arkansas.
[00:18:26] KM: Because of the installation.
[00:18:27] DS: I do sales work. We're a licensed and bonded insured contractor. We have to do – I mean, we get in metalworking, woodworking. You wear a lot of hats in stained glass.
[00:18:44] KM: How can anybody learn to do this?
[00:18:47] DS: Mostly by just apprenticing into it. You can take classes. I mean, when I took classes from a studio in Ohio, I learned the basics of cutting and assembly and just the mechanics of it, but actually running the business and whatever, a lot of that I just made it up as I went along.
[00:19:07] KM: Are there very many places like yours around that do stained glass?
[00:19:10] DS: Yeah, there's another fellow here in town, Jay King. He works by himself. There's a couple other – I think there might be one or two other small studios in Northwest Arkansas, but most of our competition for church work is out of state companies we regularly compete against companies from – Oh gosh! Arizona, Virginia, Texas, just all over. When a project is more than, say, 25 or $50,000, it becomes worth it for other companies.
[00:19:54] KM: And it's not cheap to repair stained glass.
[00:19:57] DS: No. It's a very labor-intensive craft. You look at a window and the materials only make up about 10 or 15 percent of the cost of the material and everything else is labor and the cost of it.
[00:20:14] KM: So, nepotism. You and I are both alike in that we have our children working with us and we love it.
[00:20:24] DS: Yeah, my son works with me. My nephew has worked with me for, gosh, 35 some or plus years. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve been able to keep him, my nephew, Nathan, my son, Jonathan. I have another fellow, Ronnie Rorschach. He's worked with me for, gosh, over 40, over 30 years now. So we've been able to keep that kind of core group of people together all these years. And some of my sons worked with me now since he got out of college probably around – Well, what was it? Like 2008 or somewhere in that neighborhood. Of course he grew up working part time in the business and stuff. But I never really tried to push it on him. I didn't say, “Well, this is going to be Soos and son or all that.
[00:21:21] KM: Oh, that's good, Soos and son.
[00:21:22] DS: Yeah. And finally he got out of college and did a couple other things and I think he finally decided his old man's business looked pretty good to him.
[00:21:31] KM: That's a good idea. We had a family policy at my company that no child could come to work until they were 30 years old so that they could find out how good it really is to work for dear old mom and dad.
[00:21:43] DS: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:21:43] KM: You got to learn that before you come back to the family business. This is another great place to take a break. When we come back we'll continue our conversation with Mr. David Soos, euss founder of Soos Stained Glass in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Still to come, the history and tradition of craft of glassblowing, apprenticeship and nepotism in the workplace we just talked about, and about his art form. Where you can see his work, what was his largest commissions and who are his biggest customers after the break.
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[00:23:37] KM: You're listening to Up In Your Business with me, Kerry McCoy, and I’m speaking today with Mr. David Soos, founder, artisan and teacher of Soos Stained Glass in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Before the break we talked about in the first section about David coming from Cleveland, Ohio to Little Rock Air Force Base, shocked at being stationed in Arkansas. I thought we were all going to be barefoot and pregnant here. And you were pleasantly surprised.
[00:24:04] DS: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:24:05] KM: Everybody is. Everybody we've interviewed says I always have this weird thing about Little Rock, Arkansas and then I come here and I find out it's really a progressive great size town and what?
[00:24:14] DS: It was very interesting for me because, yeah, I grew up in Northeast Ohio, which probably two counties up there. There's as many people live in those two or three counties live in the whole state of Arkansas and it's about the same geographical area as the State of Ohio. For me, I came here, it was like I’d moved to the wilderness. It was great.
[00:24:37] KM: Are you an outdoors person?
[00:24:38] DS: A little bit. Yeah. Yeah. I used to be a little more rough and outdoors person, but now more the RV kind of outdoors person.
[00:24:46] KM: Yeah, right. I know. I just got back from Miami and loved it. The weather was just wonderful. But there were so many people. And when I came home to Arkansas I was relieved. I feel like I could breathe. It was just – Loved being there. Don't get me wrong. Love the weather down there, love the culture. But wow! You just get back to Arkansas, you realize how nice everything is.
And then in the second break we talked about you starting Soos Stained Glass and about your son working there and that we think you should rename your business, Soos & Sons.
[00:25:26] DS: S-U-N or S-O-N.
[00:25:29] KM: Oh, no. S-O-N.
[00:25:30] GM: S-O-N. But I like the alliteration, Soon & Son Stained Glass.
[00:25:33] KM: That's a good one. And then about how COVID has affected your business, and that, really, stained glass is more almost construction work than artistry, which I thought was really interesting.
[00:25:49] DS: Yeah, it really is. It's a lot of labor. When we do a project, probably about 90 percent of the work ,actually the physical work, gets done in the shop. But then we have to also go out and be able to install it. We have to erect scaffolding or use lifts or wear hard hats and harnesses and all that kind of stuff.
[00:26:12] KM: Let me see your hands. Are they all cut up?
[00:26:15] DS: No.
[00:26:15] KM: How come? You wear gloves?
[00:26:17] DS: Yeah, but most of my time it's kind of like after you become successful at something you get to do less of what you actually –
[00:26:26] KM: Oh, delegate.
[00:26:27] DS: Yeah. Yeah. I spend most of my time sitting behind a desk anymore.
[00:26:35] KM: On your website it says, “Our guiding principles are rooted in the history and traditions of the hundred-year-old art form of stained glass. Our creation should last for hundreds of years. We fabricate each piece with the goal of ensuring its survival and enjoyment for generations to come.” That's not like anybody else. Most people have a planned obsolescence.
[00:27:01] DS: Yeah. Recently, we worked on a tiffany window that came out of a church in Dyersburg, Tennessee, and it was massive. It was about 76 inches wide and almost 14-feet tall and it was really – It was built. I don't think anything about tiffany windows, but they're built in multiple layers of glass. Some, you have like two and three layers, and what happened over a period of time is the dirt and putty and various things migrate in between those layers of glass especially for the early years that it was installed in the church. It had no protective glazing on it or anything like that. So it would get wind blowing dust and rain and weather on it. So it's a common problem with them, but we had to take it down out of the church about 30 feet in the air and get it back to our studio. We even had to build some a special table to be able to handle it, to be able to turn it and so forth.
But what we did is we actually restored it. We stripped down the different layers one by one. And so we ended up – I don't know. We never kept count of it, but there was probably over – I don't know, maybe 3,000 pieces of glass in the window and they had pieces of glass in there that were like the size of a fingernail clipping. It was just crazy.
[00:28:34] KM: How do you catalog that?
[00:28:36] DS: Well, when we start, of course we photo document everything. Make sure we've got pictures of everything. We take a rub of the windows on paper so we've got a road map or record of what would it look like before we take it apart. And then we photograph it again as we're disassembling it. We actually disassemble the window in a tank of water, shallow water, because there is a lead hazard to us working with it. The old lead is most times very oxidized. Also, in the good old days, they used to mix white lead in with the putty that they'd used to seal the window and take up the space in there. So that's probably our biggest exposure hazard to lead is when we're actually stripping a window down before we rebuild it. And also the water helps clean up the pieces. And if you look at our website, we had photographs of it and there're just areas of the window that were just completely opaque. You couldn't even see light coming through them anymore.
[00:29:47] KM: From dirt.
[00:29:48] DS: Yeah, just dirt built up in between the layers of glass.
[00:29:52] KM: So when I’m looking at a red piece of glass in a tiffany window, you're telling me there's two pieces of glass in there?
[00:29:59] DS: Sometimes. Parts of the window were one layer in some areas. The window were as thick as three layers of glass.
[00:30:07] KM: To get color density?
[00:30:08] DS: Get different colors, to get just kind of shading. They couldn't get a glass the color they wanted, so they'd combine two pieces of glass to create that color or that texture in there.
[00:30:27] KM: So when you take the lead out, what do you put it back with?
[00:30:32] DS: We rebuild it with lead. The window was rebuilt completely like it was originally. All the same lead.
[00:30:42] KM: How do you do that? It is there not hazards today about that. There’re no rules about that?
[00:30:47] DS: It’s just manual.
[00:30:50] KM: There's no OSHA rules about using lead?
[00:30:52] DS: Yeah. Yeah, there is.
[00:30:56] KM: But you don’t follow them. You just put your mask on?
[00:30:56] DS: Well, yeah, we do. I mean –
[00:30:57] KM: Oh yeah. You’d better say that.
[00:30:59] DS: We're pretty scrupulous about cleanliness in our studio. We have the break room and the offices are on separate heat and air conditioning systems. There's no food or drink allowed in the back of the studio.
[00:31:11] KM: Does it smell?
[00:31:12] DS: No. Not particularly. No.
[00:31:15] KM: But you can't have lead in paint today, which is a good thing. But they're going to let you put lead in your windows. What is that?
[00:31:22] DS: Yeah, there was a controversy about that I think back. In the 90s they had proposed legislation that was going to eliminate lead in all forms in construction. You wouldn't be able to use any kind of lead flashing, any lead for any purposes whatsoever. So basically it would have made our work and the restoration of any stained glass windows virtually impossible. You would have nothing to –
[00:31:51] KM: There's no substitute.
[00:31:52] DS: Not really. No.
[00:31:54] KM: I saw somewhere where you use plastic. No. You replace plastic. Glazing maybe?
[00:32:02] DS: Yeah, we do. We do a lot of uh protective glazing work over church windows. And back in the 70s companies really pushed black sand and plexiglass over windows for protective glazing and we haven't used any plastic –
[00:32:22] KM: You mean to put that in front of it so you make –
[00:32:24] DS: Exterior glazing. We protect the window. Keep the weather off of it.
[00:32:28] KM: But they were saying put plexiglass window in front of that window, encase it.
[00:32:31] DS: Well, yeah. They would put it on the outside of the stained glass to cover it, protect from the elements. And what happens with any plastic compared to glass has a limited lifespan. It's going to discolor and cloud with age and so forth and lose its structural integrity. Mostly what we use now is tempered glass over the outside.
[00:32:54] KM: I forgot what tempered glass means.
[00:32:56] DS: It's heat strengthened. It's like safety glass. If you've ever seen a piece of it actually break, it blows up into little bitty shards, but it offers pretty good protection. It's maybe five times stronger than regular window glass.
[00:33:13] KM: How long did it take you to do that 14-foot tiffany window?
[00:33:16] DS: Oh gosh! We worked on that for – I know it was at least six months I think.
[00:33:23] KM: You can't charge enough.
[00:33:26] DS: Well, actually, no. We didn't charge enough.
[00:33:29] KM: I was going to say that's one of those things that you will under sell. And then how does the person that gave it to you feel confident about giving you something like that?
[00:33:41] DS: That where your role as a salesman comes in. You've got to be able to go to the client and demonstrate to him that you know what you're doing. When we interviewed for that project, we competed against a studio from St. Louis and one from Nashville.
[00:33:58] KM: You wish they'd gotten it?
[00:34:01] DS: No. No. No. No. It took a little longer than what we thought it would take labor-wise, but we still came out okay in the end, and plus for us it was enormous fun. We really enjoyed working on it and it's a thing of taking a window that we had to insure for two million dollars before we could even move it.
[00:34:30] KM: I can't imagine taking it out of the place.
[00:34:33] GM: It sounds terrifying.
[00:34:34] KM: It does.
[00:34:35] GM: That’s all I could think of, yeah.
[00:34:37] DS: It was. Yeah, we had to use a big boom lift to get it down off of the church. It probably weighed – Well it came apart in three sections, but it was actually the individual panels were built way too big. They should have been smaller. But it was really fun for us because it was like you say. We've rebuilt it. We put it back in. We corrected any structural deficiencies in it by adding extra reinforcing to it and put it in a new frame that's not going to rot. We put laminated safety glass over the outside of it and barring tornado or some other catastrophe, the window should look just the same two, three hundred years from now.
[00:35:30] KM: Nobody makes stuff like that anymore.
[00:35:32] DS: Yeah.
[00:35:32] KM: Does it drive you crazy when you see all these people throwing stuff in the trash and take it to the dump?
[00:35:37] DS: Yeah. You work on it. You think about the people who built the thing to start with, and a lot of them probably work for very low wages and they really took a pride in their craftsmanship. And so without getting too sappy about it, you're continuing on that that legacy of craftsmanship from people you didn't know pass it on the road to somebody else.
[00:36:08] KM: Earlier in this interview you said it's not as much about art, it's more about business. I think it's pretty much about art and craftsmanship.
[00:36:15] DS: Well, it's a little bit of everything. It's a strange business compared to a lot of enterprises.
[00:36:25] KM: So on your services, you list these; design and fabrication of new windows for religious residential and public settings. Sounds like churches are your biggest customers you said. Repair and restoration, that's what we just talked about the tiffany 14-foot window from what city was it in? Nashville?
[00:36:44] DS: It's in Dyersburg, Tennessee. The Presbyterian church there.
[00:36:49] KM: Okay. And then painting and firing glass.
[00:36:52] DS: Yeah, that's part of fabrication and new work and also for restoration.
[00:36:58] KM: Abrasive etching.
[00:37:00] DS: Sandblast etching. It's decorative. It's frosted, like a frosting etching glass. You use compressed air and abrasive to etch it.
[00:37:14] KM: Glass fusing. I don't know what that is.
[00:37:17] DS: That's combining glass with heat.
[00:37:20] KM: I thought you said you didn't do much of that.
[00:37:22] DS: We do some of it. Basically what you're doing is you're starting out with sheet glass and then you're melting it together on a flat plane to create a bigger flat piece usually. If we were using it for something it would be in a window setting, but you could also do three-dimensional stuff with glass fusing.
[00:37:45] KM: Do you love Chihuly?
[00:37:48] DS: Do I love him? Yeah!
[00:37:48] KM: His art? Do you love Chihuly’s art?
[00:37:51] DS: He's a good designer. He's a good artist. He's also an excellent businessman, which is a very rare combination in any artistic field. Most artists don't know anything about business. And he can't even blow glass now because he lost an eye years and years ago. But yeah, he's really been a successful guy.
[00:38:16] KM: Have you gone around and seen all his work in the different museums?
[00:38:20] DS: I’ve seen in different places, yeah. I saw they had a show here. I think it was at the Art Center or the Clinton Library? I don't –
[00:38:27] KM: It was the Art Center. And then they had some pieces for Christmas up at Northwest Arkansas. What was it called?
[00:38:33] GM: Yes. They had it at Crystal Bridges. He had a whole outdoor installation.
[00:38:38] DS: Yeah, but his stuff is all blown glass. So you're working the hot out of a furnace, but that's not what we do.
[00:38:46] KM: Installation. That's what we've been talking about and sounds terrifying and sounds like you do a lot of that.
[00:38:55] DS: We do. Well, everything we fabricate we install. We don't hand it off to a third-party to install it.
[00:39:05] KM: I know that when installing flagpoles, it's hard to find labor that wants to install and do that kind of stuff. So we sell a flagpole. That's easy. But getting installation with reputable people that are bonded like you said and do a good job, that's a whole another thing. So does everybody that's in your business offer installation or is that really for you?
[00:39:26] DS: Typically, yeah. I mean, I guess there must be some people that don't, but we install our own work and then we've fabricated and installed stuff for other studios too.
[00:39:43] KM: There you go, yeah. And then protective glazing service, which we kind of talked about. So you're not putting plastic over the front of these. You are putting a coating on it.
[00:39:54] DS: No. We actually put another physical sheet of glass on the outside. We also kind of got in the sideline of putting up protected glazing on historic buildings like we did the Pulaski County Courthouse. We put up like 560 storm windows on the outside of the building. It's kind of an offshoot of working on churches for us.
It was funny because when we did that project, they had to advertise it for bids and we were the only company that bid on it. They had some other people came and looked at it, but due to the –
[00:40:39] KM: Why? Was it too hard?
[00:40:42] DS: It didn't seem hard to us because we had a history of working with more complicated architecture and curved top windows and bold windows and all this stuff. So it didn't really phase up us, but it's the kind of thing most regular glass shops don't want to mess with.
[00:41:02] KM: Right. They just want it to be order square, order rectangle. Get your guy to go install it.
[00:41:08] DS: Slap it in and keep going.
[00:41:08] KM: Have you thought about branching out into that as a new product line installing windows for historical buildings?
[00:41:17] DS: No. No. We really haven't. The storm window thing is about the only thing we do. We've done several courthouses. We've done lots of churches, but –
[00:41:30] KM: Storm windows on all of those.
[00:41:32] DS: Yeah, basically they're like a storm window.
[00:41:34] KM: You need to start advertising that. I got store windows on my house, and it's an old house.
[00:41:37] DS: It's on my website.
[00:41:40] KM: It is. I didn't notice it. I was all over your website today.
[00:41:43] DS: You'll find a link there to Allied Windows.
[00:41:45] KM: And I’ll tell our listeners that I’ve just told you when you got here that I found a misspelled word.
So you say that your business is rooted in history and tradition. You say that on your website. What does that mean in the making of glass? Rooted in history and tradition, does that mean the way you make it?
[00:42:10] DS: Well, it's all –
[00:42:13] KM: When did stained glass start?
[00:42:15] DS: In about the 12th century.
[00:42:18] KM: That is pretty much rooted in history.
[00:42:20] DS: Yeah. Yeah. I could take somebody – If I had somebody reincarnated from the 12th century and he walked into my studio, I could probably put him to work because the techniques that we use and how the basic construction of windows has stayed pretty much the same. We have a few nice things like a little bit better glass cutters than they had back then, and we have heat and good lighting. Yeah, the actual craft itself hasn't really changed much.
[00:42:55] KM: That's really unusual. Can't be robot. I guess you can't use robots for it.
[00:42:59] DS: We have a computer for laying out our design work. That instead of drawing out the patterns full size on a piece of paper or laying it out on the floor or a wall or whatever, we do it with a CAD program on a computer and then it'll print out a big pattern for us.
[00:43:17] KM: I’m glad to know he's got one foot in the 21st century. Just one foot.
[00:43:21] DS: As far as the rest of it, the cutting the glass, the assembly work, all that stuff, it's all still hand work.
[00:43:27] KM: If you didn't hear at the beginning of the show, it was good. I won't recap too much, but we learned how this Cleveland, Ohioan moved to Little Rock. How he started his stained glass business. I especially loved the last segment when we talked about the tiffany.
[00:43:45] GM: Fascinating.
[00:43:46] KM: Six by fourteen-foot stained glass window in Tennessee that you took down. Two million dollar window that you took down, took to North Little Rock, Arkansas. Set in a bath of water and dissected and put back together over a six-month period. Did I about nail that right?
[00:44:02] DS: Yeah, it was a lot quicker than the actual job.
[00:44:06] KM: What was?
[00:44:07] DS: Your summation.
[00:44:09] KM: I’ll say six months on that one piece. I think it's really fascinating. Your glass inventory is interesting, and I’m glad to know it exists. You have old glass windows in your warehouse over there.
[00:44:22] DS: Not too much old windows. We have what's called antique glass, which is made by hand blowing process. Most of it is imported from Germany that we have. But a lot of the glass we have is machine roll glass. It's made by a rolling process. They use something that look like a giant washing machine ringer. If anybody remembers what those are. And runs the molten glass through there and rolls it out extrudes it on a sheet. And so we keep –
[00:44:52] KM: Is that how they do it now?
[00:44:54] DS: Yeah, yeah, they roll it out and extrude it. The other part of the antique glass is made by hand blowing and they blow like a big bottle shape and cut the side out of it and lay it flat and reheat it and lay it flat to make sheet glass. But it's kind of like being a painter and having to have one tube of every color you'd ever want to have because you can't mix it.
[00:45:17] KM: So I just got the message that we are about out of time. So I want to quickly say, how should someone today – So I want to tell everybody that I have old windows in my old house and there's swirly glass and that you've got that there. If anybody needs it – Because I always – Restoration glass. If you need it, he’s got it. Soos & Sons has it. But you should some – And then if somebody wanted to get into the business of stained glass, how would you kind of quickly recommend them doing that?
[00:45:46] DS: Go to work for a studio is the best way to learn.
[00:45:49] KM: Apprentice. Just like the old days, an apprentice.
[00:45:51] DS: Yeah. They're just like the old days.
[00:45:55] KM: How long does it take to learn?
[00:45:56] DS: Oh, it would take you several years. I had the benefit of that because I worked for a studio that did bigger scale stuff, where when I started on my own that I had the confidence to take on bigger projects where some people start out as sort of a hobbyist and they don't have that real world work experience in the trade. They're much more hesitant to sort of advance and grow in the business.
[00:46:23] KM: Well, I have sure enjoyed talking to you. I hope the business turns, or hope churches get back open again and you start having more stained glass. I have a gift for you. Look, Ohio, an Arkansas and a U.S. flag for you to take home and put on your desk. That's the desk set of Ohio and Arkansas.
[00:46:36] DS: Oh, thank you. They’re good.
[00:46:37] KM: You're welcome. Thank you very much. I just want to say in closing, to our listeners, thank you for spending time with us we hope you've heard or learned something that's been inspiring or enlightening, and that it, whatever it is, will help you up your business, your independence or your life. I’m Kerry McCoy and I’ll see you next time on Up in Your Business. Until then, be brave and keep it up.
[00:46:58] KM: You've been listening to Up in Your Business with Kerry McCoy. For links to resources you heard discussed on today's show, go to flagandbanner.com, select radio and choose today's guest. If you'd like to sponsor this show or any show, contact me, firstname.lastname@example.org. That's G-R-A-Y@flagandbanner.com. All interviews are recorded and posted the following week. Stay informed of exciting upcoming guests by subscribing to our YouTube channel or podcasts wherever you like to listen. Kerry's goal is simple, to help you live the American dream.
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