Rick Beheler stands over a table covered by a sheet of paper on which he has hand-drawn several shapes. At first glance, the shapes appear to be part of a large puzzle. Beheler carefully scores and breaks pieces of glass and lays them on the paper. Closer inspection reveals the glass pieces form two columns and an arch. Pencil sketches of grass, a river, and two hummingbirds also become visible.
“It’s like a puzzle, but you use lead to hold it together,” says Beheler, a Chandler resident.
The carefully constructed pieces eventually will become a custom stained glass window for a client’s home. Beheler could work with hi-tech equipment to make the process quicker, but says he prefers to do most of the work by hand.
“I’m old school,” he says, adding he found many computer-generated sketches were inaccurate. “When I hand-draw something, I can make sure everything is exact. I find this easier. Just give me a glass cutter, straight edge, and pliers, and I’m set.”
Beheler is one of three glass artists at Sunburst Stained Glass, 300 W. Jennings St., Newburgh. Along with general manager Patty Beeson and Kris Sibrel, the trio have more than 70 years of glass artistry among them.
Owners Kevin “Butch” Will and his son Mason Will reopened Sunburst Stained Glass in June 2014 after owner Sue Morrison closed the former location at 20 W. Jennings St. earlier that year. The company designs and creates custom works, which now reside in homes as far as England, Germany, Hawaii, New York, and Alaska.
Sunburst Stained Glass also restores stained-glass windows, often from churches. After on-site removal, each window is transported to the studio and receives a tarpaper rubbing to create a template for reassembly. Glass pieces are taken apart, cleaned, and eventually fit back together.
“When we bring them in, they’re in really bad shape,” says Beeson, but adds that most people recognize the importance of retaining the integrity and history of the glass windows. “They don’t realize the hours that go into making a piece. Everything is done by hand.”
Stained glass studios are becoming more rare, says Beeson, because of the specialized skills and patience required to perfect the art. Further, not everyone is willing to pay what each project is worth. From design to installation, a custom-created window can take from one to three months to complete and cost about $165 per square foot.
Nonetheless, Sunburst Stained Glass continues to thrive. Beeson says the key to the small studio’s success is its customer service. She also says its patrons have a deep appreciation for the time and expertise involved in each handmade work.
“If you love your customers and are good to them, they’ll keep coming back,” says Beeson.
For more information about Sunburst Stained Glass, call 812-853-0460 or visit sunburststainedglass.com.