A veteran colored glass artist recently moved his family glass restoration and creation business — Art Glass Unlimited — to Pacific.
Although colored glass is referred to as stained glass, it’s often created by colors painted onto the glass surrounded by pieces of cut colored glass, and it starts with a pencil sketch, according to Jerry Mowery, artist and owner.
Mowery never had a formal art lesson, but could always draw. At age 21, a friend showed his drawings to the owners of Unique Art Glass in St. Louis and the firm offered him a job drawing pictures that were to be the models for colored-glass windows. That was in 1963.
Mowery plied the trade of glass artist at the firm for 12 years and then decided to strike out on his own. In 1976, with two partners he opened Art Glass Unlimited on Euclid Street in St. Louis.
The business would launch into restoring and creating beveled glass doors and windows for private homes and commercial buildings and a series of church windows — so many churches — that Mowery is unsure of the number.
In the firm’s new studio at 214 S. Fourth St. in Pacific examples of beveled glass doors and windows vie for space with painted and cut glass pieces of wall decor.
To create each piece, Mowery draws the image on paper then paints it on glass complete with the black lines, painted on both sides to show from either side.
Mowery is a soft-spoken, humble practitioner of a very old trade. One of his assignments when he was a youngster with Unique Art Glass was to restore some Tiffany lamps that were signed by Louis Comfort Tiffany, America’s most well-known worker of colored glass.
It was a task that Mowry recalls in almost referential terms.
“Tiffany was a one of a kind,” he said. “When you had a signed Tiffany lamp you had something.”
Mowery may seem shy in describing his own skill, but does not lack confidence in his ability to create another individual’s idea. When he listens to a customer describe what a finished window or hanging should look like he has a pat response.
“Give me a pencil,” he says.
Mowery may not recall the number of churches where he has created art glass windows, but he remembers the process of almost every one.
Each church had its own vision of what the colored windows should depict. And each order began with a pencil sketch of what the church leader wanted.
It took 11 months in 2001 for the entire six-man Art Glass Unlimited crew to create all the colored glass windows in Most Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Eureka.
“That project went very fast,” Mowery said. “Father Anderson wanted it completed by a certain date.”
The crew worked nonstop on the project, creating all the huge windows depicting moments in Christian history, at the side, front and rear of the church including the rose window above the altar.
The Immaculate Conception Church in Brookfield would take much longer.
“The church didn’t have enough money to do all the windows at once,” Mowery said. “This tiny nun, Sister Donna, would raise the funds for one window at a time. She had to approve every sketch before we could start to create the window.”
Mowery still has the folder of sketches for the project, including several versions of the same scene for some windows.
“Sister Donna knew exactly what she wanted,” said Mowery, with a friendly chuckle. “She would describe it to me and I’d create a sketch. If she wanted something different, we’d start over.”
Some projects took the artist into the realm of Renaissance art in the stained-glass windows of European cathedrals.
For the Assumption Greek Orthodox Church at Interstate 270 and Manchester Road, Mowery was given only the names of saints to be depicted in eight huge glass windows. His research uncovered a book of Byzantine-style pictures of saints, which he sketched for approval of the church.
“It was an education for me,” he said.
Through the years, Art Glass Unlimited has accumulated approximately 4,000 square feet of colored and textured glass that is stacked in vertical bins in the studio storeroom.
“Even with that inventory, it seems that you can’t find exactly the color you need,” Mowery said.
As his original partners retired, Mowery’s son Greg, also an artist since childhood and who has worked in the business his entire adult life, became a partner. The father and son were later joined by Greg’s two stepsons, James Gann and Justin Smith.
Skilled at every step of building a colored-glass window, Greg Mowery honed his skills restoring the art glass doors and windows in the historic mansions in the Central West End, near the firm’s former headquarters.
“There’s a lot of glass in the West End,” Greg Mowery said.
The third generation also sees a lifetime of work in the art glass business. Gann is the cutter who uses the artist’s drawings to assemble the pieces of glass to fit together perfectly within the frame.
Smith is the finisher, who focuses on quality control, checking all the cement to make sure windows are rigid and waterproof before the piece is shipped or fitted into the window space.
Although Art Glass Unlimited has a 40-year history and 100-plus client list working with the thousand-year-old craft of colored glass there are still things the family business could add to its repertoire, according to the third generation.
Smith would like to learn how to blow glass and add three-dimensional art pieces to the firm’s offerings.
“Art glass is all art,” Smith said. “It’s what we’re good at.”