May 16, 2018
St. Joseph’s Stained Glass
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.
“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.”
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.”
“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.
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.
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.”
More than a decade of service later, the program continues to grow. Most of the kids who live in this St. Joseph neighborhood receive free or reduced priced breakfast and lunch during the school year, but have limited food resources in the summer.
Walking into Café Belle Epoque takes you back in time. The copper tin ceiling, marble table tops, hardwood floors, wood-burning stove and jazz music seem to transport you to a period of economic glamour in historic St. Joseph.
The drive throughout downtown has become more colorful in the last five years, thanks to the creation of larger than life murals that convey the unique spirit of St. Joseph.
Games of chance and dining establishments have been a part of St. Joseph, Missouri’s uncommon character since the earliest settlers gathered to let off some steam and gamble on optimistic odds.