Stained Glass: A Dying Art
Stained glass is a unique and powerful art form that is disappearing. The Glass Connection in San Juan Bautista, CA works diligently to keep it alive.
It’s a style of art that was invented centuries ago. It’s been used to paint pictures of scenery and characters, adorn homes and palaces and churches, and throughout the time it hasn’t lost its ability to impress. But stained glass is slowly starting to disappear. The handmade, labor-intensive methods that have been used for centuries may be on their way out, replaced by precise but emotionless machines. These days, stained glass shops are few and far between. The small city of San Juan Bautista, CA boasts just such a shop, however.
Steve and Laurene opened the Glass Connection in 1986, making the business one of the oldest in town. Originally, it occupied a space in Hot Peaks Plaza next door to present-day Mexican food aficionados Dona Esthers. After 13 years in that area, an opportunity presented itself for her and Steve to buy a piece of the property several blocks away on the corner of Third and Muckelemi. The two bought it and eventually built the Peppertree Corner, a small multi-use plaza that now houses the Glass Connection along with several other locally operated businesses. Today, the shop is brimming with stained glass fixtures from lamps to doors to windows. Laurene and Steve personally crafted nearly everything in their store. “I started out small, building straight panel lamps,” says Laurene. “And I’ve just worked my way up from there.” Steve, who left his job as an electrician to work on this business with his wife, says that building a fixture can take as little as ten hours or as long as six weeks. Therein, he says, lays the rub.
“People don’t want to do this sort of labor-intensive work anymore,” he says. “These days, people are content with buying something stock from Home Depot.” But the modern-day convenience of walking into a superstore and walking out with a piece of stained glass comes at a price. “There’s always the possibility of someone doing that going home and seeing that their neighbors have the exact same thing,” says Steve. “Our customers don’t have to worry about that. Once we use a pattern, we throw it out and never use it again. Everything in our store is totally unique.”
Most of the Glass Connection’s business is from out of town, even extending as far east as Colorado. “We do a lot of shows and festivals, and that’s how we’ve grown our business,” says Laurene. “We tried advertising in the phone book and the newspapers, but that didn’t work at all. With stained glass, people have to be able to see and hold what we make.” Steve and Laurene spend most of their time making custom orders. But their customers had better be prepared to wait. “My motto always works for quality and not speed,” says Laurene. “I lost a customer once who wasn’t willing to wait twelve weeks for an order. I had orders in front of his that people were waiting for, and it wouldn’t have been ethical to not respect that order. Anyways, he ended up ordering something from Mexico.”
Thanks to its longevity, the Glass Connection is now a well-established business on the California Central Coast. “We always get orders and referrals from the major glass companies in the area,” says Laurene. The two also work extensively with contractors, working on everything from the fronts of cabinets to the main windows of churches.
“We’ve worked on churches in the past, and we’re currently working on another one right now,” says Steve. Each piece of work, whether it’s been ordered by a church or a couple, receives the same amount of care. “We like to show that we appreciate our customers,” says Laurene. “So if somebody comes back and orders a second or third fixture from us, no matter if it was yesterday or ten years ago, we give them a 10% discount.” Many indeed take advantage of this, proving that demand for custom stained glass won’t completely disappear anytime soon.