Stained-glass wizard: Meet the man behind the creations of Stanton Glass Studio

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Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2013 12:01 am

Bryant Stanton is a mess.

His hair is tousled. His clothes are a bit rumpled, his shoes scuffed. He inhales meals from their wrappers, scarcely seeming to register their contents.

“Eating is an evil necessity,” he scoffs, only half-joking, as he balls up the wrapper, tosses it into the trash, and adjusts his glasses, all in one heedless motion.

Stanton’s humor, so darkly wry it startles at first, also makes him a mess, though perhaps more of the scamp variety. The vague order of the studio’s charming loft offices, happily situated in the middle of nowhere north of Waco, seems held together by little more than a thread, strong shelves heaped with art books, files stuffed with leaflets in an order not apparent to the naked eye.

It’s a wonderful mess, and the longer it surrounds you, the more comforting — and then, inspiring — it becomes.

You settle into wonderful worn leather chairs. Your fingers linger over pages of master glasswork, startling images of color and design from long ago, from days ago.

Some of the seven children of Bryant and wife Suzanne wander in and out, grown and wiry, some holding bundled children of their own, all of them intent on their own projects that range from delicate woodwork to hot blown glass to restoration of ancient chapel windows.

Stanton beams at his sons and daughters and children-in-law and new grandbabies — an incredible four brand-new little ones appearing at the holidays. There is nothing wry in this pride and affection.

You begin to realize that the mess is the beauty, that the beauty shines brightly within it, is born in it, emerges from it. This man, his artists, his family, look upon chaos with an eye most of us simply don’t possess. From it, they coax color, light, angle, shape, until the chaos becomes what it was meant to be: breathtaking.

Above Stanton’s sleek computer screens, a rectangle of glass lets in afternoon light, as filtered through the rural property’s oaks and cedars.

And it’s just the tiniest taste of all that is still to be seen — no, more than seen. The work of Stanton Glass Studio is no less than art to be experienced.

Hippie Christian arts, crafts

“We were crazy in love,” Stanton says of his college romance with Suzanne Ellison, an auburn-haired beauty and Baylor legacy. Her family ties with the university run deep through Truett Seminary and a monument near Waco Hall of her uncle, a Baylor grad who died while evacuating wounded with the Marines in Vietnam.

Suzanne was the reason Stanton came to love Texas: As a 17-year-old transplant to Texas from the Northeast, Stanton at first thought his parents had brought him to hell.

“I rebelled; I hated it,” he recalls. “We were a New York family, from the Hampton bays. My dad was a boatyard engineer, then worked in metal extrusion after World War II. We moved to Massachusetts, where he took up restoring antiques. Then, in my senior year, we came to Andrews, Texas, where Dad worked for Kirby Vacuums in metal extrusion. It was terrible … but then I met Suzanne.”

Back in the Northeast — where Stanton’s brothers live and work to this day in art-related professions — Stanton already had an inkling that stained glass art was in his future. While still in Massachusetts, Stanton’s parents rented half of a historic 18th-century home while living in and renovating the other half.

“One of the college kids that rented from them was doing museum studies in Boston, where he made a stained glass window and brought it home,” Stanton says. “It’s the smells I remember most, rather than the look of the window — the strong smells of linseed oil and turpentine. I was doing a report for school at that time on gothic architecture, sketching flying buttresses, learning about the origins of stained glass. In my mind I was already going to be an architect, an artist, a designer. My whole dream was to go to the Rhode Island School of Design.”

Instead, it would be Texas Tech for a young Stanton who found himself taking a lot of long walks, soul-searching.

“I was an art major, but I wasn’t in architecture,” he says. “My math grades stunk. So I’m walking down Broadway one day and I run into this guy with long hair and a beard, and this strong, wonderful smell I remembered, of linseed oil and turpentine.”

Stanton followed the man to his glass studio storefront and made his first design, a golden butterfly that still hangs in the glass-filled entryway below Stanton Glass’ loft offices.

“I started making glass projects. A professor advised me that I could transfer into the school of architecture through the art program and bypass the entrance exam requirements. I finished on the dean’s list at Tech — this was ’76 or ’77 — and then transferred to Baylor. I was pursuing Suzanne, of course. She was a year younger than me and just entering Baylor.”

Stanton already knew he wanted to be self-employed. He also knew that his cash was running out quickly. “I took anything with an ‘ology’ in the name, trying to learn as much as I could in as many disciplines as I could, because I knew that with tuition at Baylor, I wouldn’t last long cost-wise.”

Then Stanton found a part-time job that answered his calling — in a manner of speaking.

“Homer Owen had a business at 1125 Washington called Rhema, which meant ‘The Way,’ ” he says. “They franchised Christian bookstores called Love Shops in shopping malls. I thought they were a craft company that made crafts, so I told him, ‘I think I could do some stained glass for you.’ And he said, ‘That’s funny; my wife Ruby Dell and I were praying just last night for that very thing.’”

Stanton thought he was beginning a dream career doing stained-glass windows. “Instead of windows, he said I’d be making inspirational suncatchers,” Stanton recalls with a mellow laugh. “You know, little VW bugs that say ‘Keep Me Going, Lord,’ or stained glass bees that say ‘I’m a Bee-liever.’ These weren’t prototypes, either. I was supplying all 50 stores, nationwide.”

The inauspicious beginning ended up leading to Stanton’s dream career anyway, if in roundabout fashion. “In 1979, Homer laid me off because the company wasn’t doing so well –— but he did say I could have the space on Washington Avenue rent-free for a year.”

Pelicans and Pine Street

It was summertime, and Stanton proposed to Suzanne on the shores of Lake Waco. “We got married. Other than our children, people would swear we have nothing in common: She’s an incredible scholar, perfect grammar, wonderful musician –— she still plays in the Waco Community Band. She sees things more in black and white. I’m visual; everything’s shades of gray.”

Stanton started his own stained-glass studio in the Washington Avenue space, and began drumming up business the old-fashioned way.

“I started calling restaurants, churches, anyone I thought might want my work,” he says. “I ended up getting my first two commissions creating pelican windows for Brazos Landing restaurant and Pelicans restaurant here in town. Then I got my first restoration job at Central Christian Church across from my location on Washington.

“I put in a bid on the McLennan County Courthouse dome. It was the early ’80s. We were so stupid. I was just learning everything on the job — the school of hard knocks, really. But I had a wife, and a mortgage.”

As his work blossomed into a respected, if fledgling, career and his network of clients grew, Stanton and Suzanne bought a house on 23rd and Pine across from St. Louis Catholic School.

“It was quiet and quaint,” he reminisces. “I rode my bike to work. Suzanne was working at a bank then, and a lot of days when I was supposed to drop our kids off at day care, I’d take them with me to the studio and let them play at my feet while I did my design work. Eventually, I built my shop behind the house. Those are great memories.”

Homeowners wanted Stanton’s unique creations in their garden windows, their cabinetry, their domed overhead lights. Clients statewide and then nationwide called regularly on his skill in restoring time-battered windows to pristine condition. Stanton trained master craftsman Ingrid Andre; she in turn would train other employees, many of them the Stantons’ friends and, as they grew, children, particularly sons Nathan and Jordan. Artist friend Joe Barbieri began handpainting one-of-a-kind stained glass pieces for churches, museums, hotels and private residences.

“I was living for years in the shadow of L.L. Sams,” Stanton recalls of his major competitor at that time. From its location on La Salle Avenue, L.L. Sams created pews, church furniture and stained glass, and had a massive inventory of clients … and glass.

“When they went bankrupt, they offered me their inventory of glass,” he says. “I ended up paying $7,000 for the whole lot, worrying that maybe I was crazy, but I was feeling something on my heart.”

Six uniquely shaped windows he found in the L.L. Sams lot turned out, amazingly, to belong in the historic Columbus Avenue home of Stanton clients Stuart and Elizabeth Smith. “The cost of restoration and installation helped pay for all the glass I’d just bought. I don’t know if it was, but it felt like it was meant to be.”

Studio in paradise

As the family transitioned to homeschooling and even home birthing, the Stantons began looking for a larger property.

“We took a ride out here one day,” Stanton says of the current location of their studio and home, several miles north of Waco off Gholson Road. “There was a tiny ‘For Sale’ sign on a tree. I told the man, ‘I’ll take it.’ He was stunned, because I didn’t know the price, the acreage, nothing.”

Stanton knew, though, that it was the right place for their children to grow and for his design work to have room to take flight. It would be in as-yet undreamed-of ways, which would include incorporating blown glass and master woodworking both within the stained-glass medium and as separate works of art and design. From nine initial acres of sturdy oak and evergreen, the family has grown the property to 28 woodsy acres containing livestock, a home that blends into its natural surroundings, and, of course, the studios. Three spacious buildings house, respectively, woodworking, blown glass and stained-glass design. And, yes, it all smells wonderful: Intense, pungent aromas of linseed oil and turpentine permeate.

The studio’s works of art began to be featured in publications like Texas Monthly and Southern Living. Historic churches like St. Paul’s Episcopal and Holy Spirit Catholic relied on Stanton for impeccable restoration and beautiful handpainted new works. Hotels like Austin’s legendary Driskill commissioned Stanton and his crew to infuse their spaces with design that incorporated the unique history and vibe present there.

At McLennan Community College, Stanton was asked to create something entirely new, with his trademark responsiveness to environment.

“This sculpture would climb beside a stairwell in the sciences building,” he says. “I saw the stairs and immediately thought of DNA. We used dicrylic glass to both absorb and reflect light.”

The finished product would be the DNA Strand sculpture, an elegantly turning double-helix of glass DNA modules that seem to catch fire when light falls upon and through them. In a nearby MCC space, one of Stanton’s uniquely paned light-fixture sculptures depicts the different scientific disciplines; a similar though uniquely styled piece hangs in the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce building.

“I’m kind of a split personality,” Stanton says, pulling an immaculate Tiffany volume, which he’s using for research on a Galveston church window, from one of the offices’ groaning shelves. “I’m also a big history buff. I love to research, to chase a mystery, and that feeds into the restoration work. On the other side of that coin, designing is what gets me out of bed in the morning. It’s the challenge of seeing something in black and white, then coloring it, cutting it out and holding it.

“And then, when it’s all put together and you slide it off the workbench and hold it to the light — it’s magical, still. You see life breathed into the piece when natural sunlight pours through that glass.”

One of Stanton’s current commissions, a set of artistic lofts on Austin Avenue, features a dramatic kelly green door nestled between the Hippodrome and the grounds of a historic Waco bakery; the piece looks like a fantasy right out of Tolkien’s novels.

“We actually call it the Hobbit Door,” Stanton says. “Some of my favorite themes involve science fiction and fantasy, along with Texas themes, floral and other natural designs, Victorian and religious work and Frank Lloyd Wright styles.”

Stanton enjoys working with his children; in fact, the loft offices overlook the stained-glass studio below, where nearly a dozen employees, Stanton’s sons among them, bustle away at restoration and original work.

“These days I’m really enjoying designing furniture,” he says. “I’d like to move into even more design work in all media. When I’m designing, I’m happy.”

Stanton Glass Studio

Designers and craftsmen of custom architectural and stained glass since 1979.

Private residences, public spaces, corporate or church settings.

318 Roger’s Hill Road

254-829-1151

stantonglass.com

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