The 102nd Annual Summer Conference of the Stained Glass Association of America
by Richard Gross
Syracuse, New York, was just about a perfect venue for the 102nd Annual Summer Conference of the Stained Glass Association of America. The weather was ideal, neither too hot during the day nor too cold at night. But far more important than that was the connection Syracuse and the surrounding area enjoys to decorative, stained, and architectural art glass. Today, Syracuse and the surrounding upstate New York area is home to a number of prominent studios and artists. Historically, Syracuse was once the home of Henry Keck and his stained glass studio. This means there was plenty for visitors to see and do during their visit to Syracuse.
Pre-Conference classes on Wednesday and Thursday included “A Contemporary Design Approach,” and “Introduction to Painting on Glass” on Wednesday and “A Contemporary Design Approach,” “Designing with Lead,” “Introduction to Painting on Glass,” and “Stained Glass Photography” on Thursday.
As someone who has seen both sides of the pre-Conference classes as a student in various painting and design classes and as an instructor in the “Stained Glass Photography” class, I don’t think it’s really possible to overstate the value of these classes. As a student, I think it’s fair to say that the chance to improve a given skill set is always a welcome experience, and, often, the greatest benefit from taking a class is the chance to view a particular skill or task through a new lens. You are introduced to what might be a new way of undertaking something, but, more importantly you are introduced to a new way of thinking about something. As an instructor, it seems clear to me that most anyone with what would be considered a normal competency level can learn and excel at most any task if they are willing to apply the time and effort to master the tools and skills for the task and — most importantly — if they are willing to take the time to understand the “why” of the skill as much as the “how” of the skill. Understanding how to do something is, of course, of vital importance, but, as important as it is, it is less important than truly understanding why to do something… why to undertake a task in a particular way or even why to undertake it at all.
The Conference opened in earnest on Thursday morning with the Design Competition display (see pages 220-221 for Competition photos and results) and the Suppliers’ Showcase.
Cliff Oster spoke on Thursday morning about the composition of lead and why its composition is important to the stained glass craftsman. Oster, who has developed several formulations for silver stain that are available through C. E. Oster & Co. and who also serves on the SGAA Stained Glass School Board of Directors, spoke later that morning about silver stain and its use.
Robert Jayson of Bendheim, Inc., made it possible for Hans Reiner Meindl, the new owner of Lamberts Glass, to present some of the latest developments at Lamberts. It was a very enlightening and entertaining presentation on what many consider to be some of the finest art glass in the world.
After lunch, Steve Sussman presented “Design Considerations for Framing Systems.” Even with as technologically advanced as Sussman frames are and with as much as they can accomplish, there are certain design considerations that the studio should take into account to maximize the strengths of the design and the success of the installation.
Afternoon presentations concluded with Jerome Durr’s very popular presentation on stone setting, which he originally gave at the Kansas City Conference last summer and which was presented in Syracuse a second time as a result of numerous requests.
The Welcome Reception dinner was held that evening in the hotel’s Horizons Dining Room, which is located on the top floor of the hotel and has a stunning 360 degree view of Syracuse. Albin Elskus, Jr., gave an after-dinner presentation on the life and art of his father, Albinas Elskus. Everyone who had the privilege of knowing Albinas, both those who knew him in person and those who know him through his work and his writing, were deeply touched by this intimate portrait of an artist who so deeply influenced so many involved today in the Ancient Craft.
Friday morning began with the Member Breakfast Buffet and Round Table Discussion. This important annual event allows members to hear about the latest SGAA projects from the people who are making them happen and to offer feedback to people in key positions in the SGAA as to where they would like to see the SGAA focus its efforts.
This year there were six topic round tables. Table One featured Jerome Durr speaking about the future of the Association. At Table Two, I talked with people about the future of the SGAA’s publications, including The Stained Glass Quarterly, and websites. One of the main concerns brought by some members to this discussion was whether or not the Association plans to make The Stained Glass Quarterly an electronic publication. Let me assure the readers, as I assured those at the Conference, that the Association has no plans to take this drastic step at this time. The Stained Glass Quarterly will remain a print magazine for the foreseeable future.
Table Three, hosted by Bob Markert and Rick Hoover, focused on the current efforts of the SGAA Stained Glass School. It is remarkable how quickly plans are moving forward to make the physical school a reality again. Look for some very exciting updates on classes at the Raytown facility in the very near future.
Donald Samick was the moderator at Table Four, where the topic of discussion was the new SGAA Business Forum. This program has been warmly received by the SGAA membership and offers an excellent opportunity for some business mentoring and a chance to have business questions answered by those with experience who have encountered such situations before.
Table Five was hosted by the SGAA’s Health & Safety Committee and moderated by committee chairman Al Priest. The committee works closely with Karen Long of Amethyst Environmental to follow recent regulatory changes in working with lead and to provide members with the information and resources they need to stay compliant with these changes. Also, the SGAA’s Health & Safety Committee has several projects in the works, including an entirely new booklet to be released soon.
The final table was hosted by David Judson, chairman of the SGAA’s Membership Committee. Judson discussed concerns that members have about their membership and about what the SGAA can do to add value to membership at all levels.
Friday’s lectures and presentations offered attendees the chance to experience a wide range of topics. Donald Samick of J. & R. Lamb Studios offered advice and guidance on various methods of project estimating. Then Sarah Hall presented a fascinating lecture on her work incorporating photovoltaics into art glass installations. It was a tantalizing look at this technology that, I’m sure, left everyone pondering the possible applications of such technology in their own work.
After lunch, Dr. David Pye spoke on the fundamental nature of glass. From his laboratory background, Dr. Pye was able to offer insights to glass artists that they might not have had the opportunity to encounter before. It was a very interesting and informative presentation.
Scott Ouderkirk then presented one the of the lectures I was most anticipating: Henry Keck Studio: 61 Years of Stained Glass in Syracuse and Beyond. I have long been a fan of the beauty, artistic accomplishment and power of Henry Keck windows, and Ouderkirk’s lecture did not disappoint. His presentation on this very historic stained glass studio was insightful and informative. I was very much impressed with the depth of Ouderkirk’s understanding of the important accomplishments of the Keck studio and his ability to share those insights with everyone.
Friday evening, the SGAA’s Health & Safety Committee hosted a lead symposium that offered updates on the latest regulations affecting our industry and gave members a chance to ask questions and share information on how to remain compliant with new OSHA regulations.
Saturday, we all enjoyed the tour of notable Syracuse-area stained glass installations. Tour stops included First Presbyterian Church, Holy Cross Catholic Church, and the Willard Chapel. At the Willard Chapel, a complete Tiffany interior, we enjoyed some very informative lectures on the changes in the chapel from the time it was built to its present-day appearance, which included a fascinating presentation by Viggo Rambusch on the changes in interior light in American worship spaces across the various historical periods of American architecture and design. [Note: a summary of this presentation was printed in the Summer 2011 issue of The Stained Glass Quarterly.]
The Conference concluded with the SGAA’s Annual Awards Reception and Banquet. Steve Sussman of J. Sussman, Inc., and an accomplished illusionist, demonstrated his talent in his presentation called “Mysteries of the Mind.”
Viggo Rambusch was awarded the very prestigious SGAA Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to the Ancient Craft.
Richard L. Hoover, former editor of The Stained Glass Quarterly, former SGAA Accredited Studio owner, and currently the director of The SGAA Stained Glass School, was made a Lifetime Member of the Association.
Gary Helf of Franklin Art Glass, Columbus, Ohio, and Nick Parrendo of Hunt Stained Glass Studio, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, were both given awards for their studios’ more-than 100-year membership in the Stained Glass Association of America.
Being involved with the SGAA’s Annual Summer Conference at every stage — planning, site visits, promotion, workshop teacher, lecture presenter, conference attendee, and even writing about the event when all is said and done — gives me perhaps a unique experience of the Conference but also a deep appreciation of it. It is amazing how many people work hard, putting in dozens if not hundreds of hours to make the Conference a success. It is an honor and a privilege to work with all of these people on a project like the Conference and to see it become a success. And I know it is a success when I see people attend and enjoy the Conference experience. There is something for everyone to take away from the event.
I would like to share one of the chief things I take away from the Conference, and that is this: the Conference is the largest single undertaking of the SGAA in any given year. It is the result of the effort of many people, all of whom collaborate to create something bigger than themselves. Seeing it succeed is so satisfying because its success is good for the entire industry. And really, that is the goal of all of the SGAA’s projects. At the end of the day, that is an extremely noble goal to work toward; it’s worth the time and effort.