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Pearl River Glass Studio blends biz, artistic success

Jackson — For a small business owner, success might be defined as being a leader in the marketplace, having a high demand for the product and providing jobs for a dozen employees. For an artist, success might mean having the freedom to be creative and having a waiting list of customers who desire commissioned work.

Andrew Carey Young of Pearl River Glass Studio has succeeded at both.

Young’s success as a business owner is evidenced by a studio that employs 10 people, generates more than $500,000 in annual sales and has been in operation for over 30 years. His artistic success is exemplified in his work, which includes stained glass artwork in churches, commercial buildings and private residences from Mississippi to Michigan, and his awards, which include the prestigious 2002 Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. His peers honored him by electing him 2005-2006 president of the Stained Glass Association of America, a 100-year-old trade association.

Young began his artist/entrepreneur journey in May 1975. Fresh from graduating from Louisiana State University at the top of his class with a degree in landscape architecture, he and a friend rented a garage behind an antique store on North State Street near downtown Jackson.

“My first customer was a neighbor in Belhaven who wanted a sidelight for his front door,” he recalled. Next, there was a commission for a piece in a home in Northeast Jackson from a customer, “…who just walked in off the street.” Most of his early business was residential. He also did repair work on stained glass that had been damaged or needed work because of age.

Although not as glamorous or exciting as creating new pieces, this type work had practical benefits. “I learned a lot of the technical aspects of stained glass by doing repair work.” Young’s artistic skills have been enhanced by studies with Ludwig Schaffrath, one of the best-known post-war glass designers, and architectural stained glass designer Hans von Stockhausen, both of Germany. He has also studied under the master iconographer Vladislav Andrejev, founder of The Prosopon School of Iconology in New York.

In 1976 Young moved less than two miles away to his current location at 142 Millsaps Avenue and rented 1,800 square feet of space. He has been there, growing the business incrementally ever since. It was in 1990 that he realized he “…would stick with it.” In 1993, he bought the building and added 5,000 square feet. In 2005, he expanded again by buying an adjacent building with a partner.

He estimates that Pearl River Glass Studio has now done projects for more than 200 churches, his biggest project being Christ United Methodist Church in Jackson. At Cross of Christ Lutheran Church in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., 28 panels of his stained glass fill the 100 foot church spire.

Commercial establishments are also adding stained glass to their facilities. One of the first elements a visitor to the south lobby of St. Dominic’s Hospital in Jackson will encounter is a mural created by Pearl River Glass Studio. It depicts “…the Gospel reference of God appearing as a dove descending to Christ, imbuing him with the Holy Spirit during His baptism. In the mural, the dove is ascending, returning to heaven.”

Young’s business card reveals a lot about his management style and how he views himself. Instead of a business term such as CEO, president, chairman or owner, the words under his name are “Artist/Designer.” Appropriate for someone who says, “I’ve always wanted to be an artist.”

Nevertheless, he is the boss, and therefore not immune to management issues. He confesses that the biggest adjustment in going from where he was 30 years ago to where he is now was learning to delegate. That management skill is critical in producing stained glass art that, as in the case of church windows, may be 750 square feet and require numerous processes. He says that his role in such cases is more akin to that of movie director. His team members bring their own sets of talent, skill and creativity to the activity, but he must know the capabilities of the team members and the medium. “Stained glass art as such requires many creative people,” according to Young.

A walk through Pearl River Glass Studio reveals the diversity of the process and the projects that the studio is involved with. At one spot a graphic artist is peering into a monitor as he uses computer aided design software. At another an artist is creating with a pencil and paper. In another section of the high-ceiling workspace, a glass cutter is carefully scoring a heavy piece of colored glass. At a large table an artist explains that he is using a new composite material to make a piece of artwork. Each seems busy in his or her own independent motion and activity, but somehow tethered together in a common activity.

Young has also learned that business relationships are significant. Word of mouth and referrals are a vital part of marketing. Young also points out that even in a business that uses techniques and materials that are essentially the same as they were hundreds of years ago, embracing technology is also an important part of his business success. “I never shied away from technology,” he said. After purchasing a computer he said that he saw a 50% increase in sales due to information management.

Young beams when he talks about stained glass as an art form. In a winter 2002 article for The Stained Glass Quarterly, he said that he believes that stained glass is the most expressive medium. “It encompasses the narrative and as such is akin to literature; it encompasses musical harmony in that a well-designed window creates a visual sound. In all of the visual arts, no other medium deals with light in the same way. A painting will look the same every time you turn the lights on; only stained glass ultimately modulates light.”

As president of the Stained Glass Association of America, he is involved with industry and association issues. These include concerns about lead, safety issues and overzealous legislation. The association has been actively involved for several years with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which maintains stringent guidelines for safety in building components. The association has pointed out that as 10 centuries of use has shown, there are no unusual inherent or unnecessary risks in the use of architectural stained glass. This resulted in the commission’s adopting guidelines that address stained glass directly.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Phil Hardwick at phil@philhardwick.com and his Web site is www.philhardwick.com.

About Phil Hardwick

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