#COLORFUL
St. Joseph’s Stained Glass

May 16, 2018

Written by Rachel McCoy | Photos by Patrick Evenson, Alysa Ramsay and Jessica Stewart

CHARACTER TRAIT: Colorful

DEFINITION: Full of interest; lively and exciting; having much or varied color.

EDITOR’S NOTE: St. Joseph, Missouri’s rich architectural heritage includes a wide and colorful array of stained glass artwork. While much of the city’s rich collection is enjoyed by private homeowners, there are many venues open to the public that feature great masterpieces of colored glass. In the early 1900s, several glass art studios thrived as they adorned homes and buildings. Today, one studio carries on the craft. This story focuses on the couple Rick and Terri Rader of Tobiason Studio while the photos we share include windows found throughout our community.

Glass art is a risk, all things considered. It’s fragile; somewhat unpredictable; it’s finicky as a medium. It’s heat, fire, precision and hope all melded together. And it’s a centuries-old trade that’s seeking a newer generation to carry the tradition forward. So why are fire, metal and glass still the chosen materials for Rick and Terri Rader, artists and owners of Tobiason Studio?

“The love of art glass is in the eye of the beholder,” says Rick. “It’s the light, the color, the design, and sometimes even the absence of color, that makes it beautiful in its own way to each person. I see something different in the glass every time.”

The Raders – now nearing their 28th year in business in St. Joseph – hold on to heat and color for other reasons. They share a passion for keeping the craft of glassworking alive, expressed in numerous complex and stunning church stained glass windows that they’ve created or repaired over the decades. As the area’s only commissioned glassworkers, the Raders specialize in custom pieces and glass restoration of existing pieces. They’re also known as the local pros in beveled glass, sandblasted glass and many other variations.

Teaching and inspiring others to get to know this fascinating material for themselves is rewarding for the Raders. Tobiason Studio offers a schedule of glassworking classes and workshops, available to students of all ages. Topics include flat glass, warm glass, lampworking and sandblasting.

“Children actually represent some of the highest numbers of class attendees,” says Rick. “We love to come alongside them and watch them work because they aren’t so worried about everything needing to be ‘perfect.’ Instead, they truly enjoy the process itself.”

In addition to classes, a stream of “regulars” comes to open studio time at Tobiason, meticulously moving their own personal glass projects forward under Rick and Terri’s wise guidance. Beginning with just a single room in the 1990s, the current Tobiason Studio space is more than 32,000 square feet, with stacks of carefully packaged glass and other materials awaiting transformation. The inventory is extensive and beckons glass creators in lampworking, mosaic and numerous styles of cut glass.

“Not only are we sharing the craft during studio sessions, but it’s great community time and social time,” says Rick. “We see different generations getting involved.”

Rick says high revenue has never been the priority for the work, because he’s gained something more important – the ability to truly do what he loves each day. Both Rick and Terri were longtime employees at Quaker Oats in St. Joseph, and then took a new direction together in Tobiason Studio when the Quaker facility relocated.

As the business has grown, the Raders have left their personal mark of craftsmanship on many area historic homes and churches, keeping the architectural legacy of St. Joseph shining brilliantly from many stair landings and pews. Tobiason Studios’ glass finesse is on display in stained glass at The Shakespeare Chateau Inn in St. Joseph, and many other area landmarks.

For Terri, glassworking isn’t just an artistic passion – it’s a family tradition. Her great great uncle, Paul Wolff of St. Joe Art Glass, made many of the original stained glass pieces around St. Joseph.

Rick and Terri are generous with their craft. They regularly volunteer on area arts committees and participate in the Artists in the Schools program, bringing art glass into the classrooms. They’re also champions for the long-lasting meaning behind area church window restoration projects. The Raders helped replace glass art lost in a fire at the St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Effingham, Kan., and helped with windows at a rural church in Clyde, Mo.

“There’s something about the stained glass at churches that carries so much meaning,” says Rick. “We grew up in churches with stained glass elements, and we believe it’s really important to preserve those – especially as these rural churches begin to disappear.”

Like any creative endeavor, the stained glass process begins with a customer’s vision. If they know they want something beautiful but aren’t sure what, that’s alright, too. The Raders can create professional pencil sketches with the help of Rick’s sister, Shelley Grier. The sketch is tweaked until final approval is received and then the glass is cut and shaped one piece at a time, often painted and fired in the kiln, before putting it all together to bring the design to life. Rick explains that it happens over a multi-week process.

As the Raders near retirement, they are interested in pursuing some donated “pet projects” as glass preservation work. “St. Joseph has lost many of its beautiful windows over the years, and we want to help save some when we retire. We want to help preserve what we have,” says Terri.

Rick says keeping glassworking alive as a business and a craft in St. Joseph has been a true collaborative effort. “I couldn’t have managed the past 28 years without help from so many family members,” he says. “My mom was a big part of it, and so were Terri’s parents and other family members. We also have some very good friends who have come alongside us. Most importantly, I couldn’t have done this without Terri.”

“Windows truly shine and come alive with the light. If you stand back and look, there are so many things you can see. Even clear pieces can reveal some amazing textures,” says Terri. “Our work is truly a love of glass. A love of the art. And we are blessed to truly enjoy all of it.”

#ARTIFACTUAL

Something made by human hands that has some archaeological or historical significance.

#AWESOME

Extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or inspiration.

#GUMPTIOUS

Takes initiative with attention, common sense, spunk and resourcefulness.

#DELICIOUS

Highly pleasant to the taste; delightful.

#Melodious

Having a tune that is pleasant to the ear; delightful.