Bryant Stanton of Stanton Studios discusses his work, artistic business models and never retiring.
Mac Davis may have sung that happiness was Lubbock, Texas in his rear view mirror (or, later in the song, drawing nearer and dearer.) Bryant Stanton found happiness there, too; or at least his life’s calling. While walking near the Texas Tech campus and praying about his future, asking for a sign from God, an old hippie gave Stanton that sign, thus putting him on a path in the world of art.
That was in 1978. Stanton now run Stanton Studios, which specializes in wood, metal and glass. His wife, Suzanne, and their four sons work at the business, which is located on 27 acres near Gholson. The company has done work for the Driskill Hotel in Austin; Vic and Anthony’s Steakhouse in Houston; too many churches to name; and private clients from across the country.
Stanton welcomed Wacoan writer Kevin Tankersley on a recent Wednesday afternoon and showed him around the shops while Suzanne, the Stanton boys and other artists were all busy doing what they do.
Stanton: Do you want the grand tour?
WACOAN: Yes. That’d be great.
Stanton: My son, Nathan, runs the wood shop. He is out putting a set of doors on a church right now.
We build church doors and residential doors. This set of residential doors will get glass on them. We’re able to build windows, doors, whatever, that stained glass can go into. A lot of times working on restoration of churches, the old windows are rotted out, so we can go in and give them a turnkey price. ‘We’ll not only fix your stained glass, we’ll build a new wood window for you.’ I don’t know if you remember the Westphalia church.
WACOAN: Yeah. It burned a few years ago.
Stanton: These are the two short doors and behind them are the identical [tall] ones. I asked them to bring us the timbers from the burned out church, and we turned those timbers into these. We call it ‘beauty from ashes.’
WACOAN: How long does something like these doors take?
Stanton: It took about three months to do these four doors. We did it the old fashioned way where we’re driving a square peg into a round hole, which is the old way to build something where it locks forever. You’re never gonna get that apart.
WACOAN: So it’s not nails, but wooden pegs?
Stanton: Right. For [the] accent, we used walnut [for the pegs] against the contrasting long leaf yellow pine. We also do woodturning on the lathe. We’ve got the ability to make furniture, which we do. We’ve done work for Baylor. We’ve done work for University of Texas. We’ve been doing [woodworking] now for over 30 years. This is a conference table for the Art Center of Waco that will complement the desk and the pivot doors that we did there.
WACOAN: How long have you been at this location?
Stanton: Since the 90s. I started out at 414 Franklin Avenue, which is where Truelove Bar is now. That was our building. We sold it and moved to Pine Avenue for a little bit [then] we outgrew that building. As we outgrow buildings, we move. I was at FM 933 and Howard Lane over here and we sold that property to Homestead [Heritage], and they put in their deli and all that. We moved over here [where] I had been living. We cleared all this property [and] the wood shop had been here, then we added the hot glass shop. We’ve been here since 2008.
We do light fixtures — more like light sculptures — and metal work. We did lights and the ceiling for the Vic and Anthony’s Steakhouse in Houston, part of the Landry corporation. Every time they open up a steakhouse anywhere in the country, we do all their light fixtures.
This is Tessa [Wollard], our lead designer on church windows. She’s picking colors here for [a demonstration piece for] St. Mark. She’ll hand paint all the glass and cut it out the traditional stained glass way. We’ve added more space to our group.
My son, Samuel, is cutting out glass for my son, Timothy, to build a set of cabinet doors for a home here in Waco. These cabinet doors all have mouth-blown glass in them. This glass came from Germany. The bubbles in the glass are called seeds, and that comes from throwing either a piece of wood or a potato into the molten glass. It’ll put the little bubbles in the glass because the glass starts bubbling up, trying to dissolve that.
This window is one of many that we’re doing for the city of Odessa fire departments for a public art commission that we won. There are six [windows] over one entry. It’s going to be pretty.
Aaron [Haas, the studio’s grouter] is rebuilding these windows. These are old windows, and somebody made them even fancier many years ago by putting some medieval glass in here that came out of an old church, possibly from England.
Pat Laverty [from Laverty’s Antiques] called me one day [and said,] ‘Hey. There’s a stained glass window in here a guy just traded me.’ I guess I’ve been in the business long enough that my stuff is getting torn out of houses and put into thrift shops, and that’s the I fish window. I did that in 1984. I’ve been doing this since 1979.
WACOAN: So you had to buy your own piece back?
Stanton: Yeah, but I got a bargain. That used to be a skylight in a guy’s office. He was a striper fisherman and he’d lean back in his chair and look up and dream of fishing instead of selling insurance.
Many years ago when I was starting out in business, Baylor’s School of Entrepreneurship did a study on me and my business model. It was me — an artist in downtown Waco — living a Soho lifestyle.
WACOAN: Were you living at 414 Franklin?
Stanton: We had a house at 23rd Street and Pine. Young married guy, two kids, wife. After a semester of studying us, they came to us and said, ‘Mr. Stanton, you realize that your business model is not sustainable in Waco, Texas.’ I said, ‘I don’t know anything else.’
Then in 2017, the same people awarded us [the] Texas Family Business of the Year at Baylor, and the Hankamer School of Business honored us with a dinner. I guess I either changed my business model or they changed their mind. I think my business model did change, in that I realized I couldn’t do it all myself.
The way to successfully be an artist in a business like this — manufacturing — is to reproduce yourself in other people. Everybody you see here is exactly what I’ve done. I’ve taken what I’m thinking and getting them to buy into a philosophy of what we’re doing. It used to be anything for a buck. With inflation it’s 10 bucks now.[In the hot glass shop], this is my private little area that I do my stuff in, when I want to get away from everybody and just kind of think through projects.
l make anything from platters to my COVID art.
This is Dr. Fauci’s great-grandmother. This woman is reading out of the book of incantations. There’s a new variant that she’s reprogramming and this is the first nasal recipient of a vaccine. I made all this up. I created this whole world of called 19 COVID Street. I took images from around the world from back in 1918. I started creating hundreds of different scenarios during the lockup to keep my sanity. I didn’t have anything else to do, so I started making up these stories.
They had no nothing political about them, it was just me making up a funny scenario. So that’s what this room is. It’s a mess.
In a few days, all this [outside of the hot glass shop] will be cleaned up. My antique Volkswagen will be pushed back into the other garage, the motorcycle will disappear. That’s a 1972 Volkswagen which belonged to Kent Keeth and his wife, Lucy.
WACOAN: He was with the Texas Collection at Baylor for a long time, right?
Stanton: Right. When I had my shop on Franklin, they would drive up in this. After Lucy died, I asked Kent, ‘Do you have that old Volkswagen still?’ He said, ‘The last I saw it was in my garage, and I haven’t seen it in 20 years because I lost the key to the garage.’
We worked a deal. It was running up until it wasn’t. But that’s Volkswagens. We have a vapor lock system going on here, and I’ve got to replace the roof, but we’ll get it up again before the end of the football season.[After the clean-up], we will have people lined up out here to blow Christmas tree ornaments and pumpkins. That’s when Stanton Hot Glass will have the furnaces burning away. People will come out here and choose what type of Christmas tree ornament and the colors they want to do.
They can blow their own [glass] pumpkin. People with their time slots come out here. The guys that are blowing will pull the colors out and you stand on the X curve. They give you the end [while] they are manipulating the glass and you blow it. Kids as young as five-years-old can blow their own little pumpkin or ornament.
WACOAN: Can they take home the pumpkin or ornament that day?
Stanton: It’s got to go in the annealer and set overnight. The other use of this building — when we’re not using it as a hot glass shop — we’ll take this area and use it as a conference room. I hosted a college here recently and we discussed what a stained glass window is and designing windows. It was a week-long workshop.
Before that, we had the Stained Glass Association of America come here, and we had our winter board meeting. The idea was to get them out of the cold temperatures around the country, but that week, Waco had the 12-degree temperatures and [an] ice storm. The joke was on them. I’m the board president of the Stained Glass Association of America. That and 50 cents will get you a cup of coffee at 7-Eleven.
Our next move is adding on to the front of the woodshop because we’re running out of space. We’re not going to move this time. We’re going to just expand the buildings.
WACOAN: How much land do you have out here?
Stanton: Twenty-seven acres. My son, Jordan, lives next door. My two younger sons live in Waco, around 43rd Street over by the Sherwood Forest area, and then my other son, Nathan, lives in China Spring. They’re all married.
WACOAN: Do they all work here?
Stanton: They all work here. I’ve got seven kids, three daughters and four boys. I’ve got 18 grandkids right now. I haven’t heard of any new ones yet.
WACOAN: Where did you grow up?
Stanton: I was born in Long Island, New York, then we moved to Massachusetts, to the Plymouth area. My first job was when I was 13 [and] I went to work on a cranberry bog.
I thought I was going to be living [in Massachusetts] all my life. My dad announced one day that he had taken a job in Andrews, Texas when I was 17, in 1976. My family, lock, stock and barrel, moved to the West Texas town of Andrews. I did my last two years of high school, then went to Texas Tech for architecture.
They took me aside and said, ‘Mr. Stanton, you realize you have to add numbers to be an architect.’ I said, ‘Dang, I just want to design really pretty stuff.’ And they said, ‘Why don’t you go art?’ So I went art and made the dean’s list every semester. One day, I went walking off campus and said, ‘Lord, I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with the rest of my life. Would you show me?’ I walked about another mile down the road and ran into a [old hippie] guy that was doing stained glass. He taught me how to do that butterfly [hanging on a wall in the studio]. He was working out of an old Piggly Wiggly grocery store. That was my first piece.
WACOAN: When was that?
Stanton: 1978. I’ve been doing glass for all my art projects ever since. I do three-dimensional sculptures and stuff like that. I met my wife before I went to Texas Tech. She was my girlfriend at the time and she had taken off for Baylor, so I eventually transferred from Tech to Baylor. She finally said yes and we got married. We started the business right after that.
WACOAN: Do you buy glass that is already colored? Or do buy clear glass and paint it?
Stanton: All this glass is manufactured by hot glass shops. That that’s all they do. They make glass and they make it all by hand. This crate here came all the way from Germany. [On] this glass, the edges are smooth. They blow this just like you would on the end of a blow pipe.
These are big, burly Germans and they’ve done it this way for centuries. They blow a big cylinder of glass and they’ll cut both ends off, then they reach inside with a glass cutter on a long stick and they’ll score it. They’ll break the two halves apart. They’ll break the cylinder into two halves, like two smiley faces, run it back through a furnace that heats it up very slowly, and they’ll take a pizza peel and flatten it out. And this is what you get; sheets of glass.
WACOAN: In shipping from Germany, what percentage of breakage do you get?
Stanton: Maybe 10%. The glass you’re seeing here is $220 a sheet. Right now, the war in Ukraine threatens the production of the glass, because of the energy — the natural gas — that it takes to run the furnaces. That’s a real concern that we have because we have a big project coming up. We need the glass produced. Another supplier of glass in the United States — during one of the storms — their roof caved in and we’re waiting on them to rebuild.
The manufacturing of glass for our industry right now is pretty shaky. This glass is from the same glass company in Kokomo, Indiana, that started in 1888 that supplied Louis Comfort Tiffany with his glass and we still buy from them. This company, Blenko, they don’t make glass anymore, so we have this when we have to repair a window that has Blenko glass in it.
We do historic restoration of windows. We’re conservators of old windows. That’s a main part of our business. We go into old churches, take out their windows and we make them like new again.
So we need all this glass. I’ve got two shipping containers in the back filled with glass. You can never have enough.
WACOAN: The big project you have coming up, can you talk about what that is?
Stanton: Yeah. We’re doing St. Mark’s Catholic Church in Denton, Texas. Forty-two windows [with] New Testament and Old Testament Bible scenes. And in Oregon, right outside of Portland, [at] George Fox University, we’re doing the chapel.
WACOAN: How long will the chapel take?
Stanton: It can be a year-long project. I’ve been working on this now for at least six months.
WACOAN: How old are you if you don’t mind me asking?
Stanton: I am 64.
WACOAN: How long do you plan on doing this? Forever?
Stanton: Yep. When you’re a creative person, how do you turn that off?
It’s not like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna go retire and pick up a hobby.’ I haven’t worked a day in my life. I’ve been employed in my hobby all my life, but it’s happened to be my profession and my business. I enjoy every day coming to work. It’s been fun. It is fun.
WACOAN: How prophetic was that walk you took down the street in Lubbock?
Stanton: Extremely. It was like I was looking for a direction and it was obvious to me what the answer was. So, when I went to Baylor, I was driving home. I knew that [when] summer break [was] coming up and I didn’t want to go back to the oil fields of West Texas. That’s what I did in the summer to make money to go to school. Right at Orchard Lane and I-35 was a little store or artists’ colony called The Warehouse, and they made macrame and pottery and planters.
WACOAN: I remember that place. It was religious-themed stuff.
Stanton: Yeah. So I went in there, because I was praying. I said, ‘Lord, I don’t want to go back to Andrews. Is there something else you’d have me to do?’
I went there and I applied for a job and they said, ‘Oh, we’re shutting this down. Go to 1125 Washington Avenue and ask for a Homer Owen.’ So I go and that’s where Hole in the Roof is now. I walk in and I ask for Mr. Owen. They said he was upstairs, so I go up there, and his secretary let me in. There was big, jolly guy with a black beard behind this desk. I said, ‘Mr. Owen, I’m Bryant Stanton. I do stained glass, and I think I can make stained glass for you and you could sell it.’ He goes, ‘Glory! Ruby Dale and I were just praying last night. We said, “Lord, would you send us a stained glass artist?” And here you are. What am I ought to do with this?’ He’s from Hereford, Texas, and they talk a little different out there in Hereford.
So I worked for Homer and I had this grand idea that I was going to make stained glass windows for churches or homes. He said, ‘Here’s the idea. We’re the first Christian franchise bookstores in shopping malls in America, called The Love Shop. The idea is we sell our product to the franchise owner and we sell it for $1. It costs us 50 cents. We sell it for $1. We’ve made 50 cents, and they sell it for $2. See how that works?’
That was my basic introduction to business. He said, ‘What you need to do is make us some stained glass pieces that we can sell for $1 and they can sell for $2.’ So the first thing I did was a Volkswagen bug with a puff of smoke coming out of the back end of it, made out of wire. It was just a suncatcher that we mounted to a block of wood and it stood up to sit on your desk. We screen printed, ‘Keep me going, Lord’ on it.
I said, ‘How’s this?’ ‘It’s great. How many can you make in a day. We base the prices on your salary plus the materials and how many you can put out in a day. Then at the end of the week, we count those up and we know that it’s going to cost us so many dollars to make that.’ So after making these things over and over again, he said, ‘You need to expand your palate, and we need other things. How about a bumblebee? We can say be a believer. Or a butterfly. I’ve been born again, or something like that. Or behold all things become new.’
I came up with an ostrich with his head buried in the sand. Set your mind on things above and not on things of the earth. I remember making my first one and Suzanne saw it and the toes on it made her laugh so hard. They were just wire. She sat there and laughed till she was crying. So I worked there for about a year doing that because it was time to go back to school at Baylor. I said, ‘Homer, it’s time for me to go back to school. It’s been a great summer.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you pray? God may ought not want you to go back to school.’ It was like he’d thrown a medicine ball and hit me in the chest. And I knew I wasn’t going back school. I was done.
I lasted about a year. We bought our house at Pine Avenue and I came in to get a wrench or something out of my toolbox on a Sunday, and he was there and he goes, ‘Hey, I can’t afford to keep you on salary anymore. Tell you what, you can have the space for a year rent free and I’ll sell you all the all the glass.’ So I was unemployed and self-employed all on the same day.
I started calling churches on the phone. I said, ‘My name is Bryant Stanton. I do stained glass and I was just wondering if there’s anything I can do for you, if you have any broken glass or anything that needs done.’ The first church I called was Central Christian Church. They had some windows that were damaged in the fire. I never said no to anything. I started calling restaurants, and I called Pelican’s Wharf and said, ‘My name is Bryant Stanton. I do stained glass. Is there anything I can make for you, maybe your logo?’ and the guy goes, ‘Can you make me a pelican?’ I said, ‘Sure.’ So I called the Brazos Landing next and I said the same spiel and the guy goes, ‘Can you make me a pelican?’ So my first two commissions were pelicans.
WACOAN: That’s kind of random in Waco.
Stanton: I think the guy at Pelican’s Wharf wanted that for his house in Florida. I think that was his grand plan. I think the manager of Brazos Landing used that as a sign. We had Brazos Landing written out on it. Those were my first, and I have not gone without a commission for the 43 years that we’ve been doing this. It’s grown into sculptures and other projects now.
We’ve been doing a lot of public art and working in the Waco community. For years, most of our work was around the country. But since Chip and JoJo [Gaines] and all that, we’ve been doing a lot more work in Waco. Actually, I’d say, since the success of the Baylor football team — the Art Briles era — we’ve been doing a lot more work in Waco.
I just finished many years on the Waco Art Center board, and I’m pretty proud of all we accomplished. I was board president when we lost the building up on the hill [at McLennan Community College]. It was a great building, but we just outgrew it and we really needed to be downtown. We need to be more accessible to our clients. So it was time.
WACOAN: Do you still have to reach out to clients, or do folks find you now?
Stanton: People find us. We get emails everyday [from] people asking, ‘Can you do this? Can you do that?’ I had a guy email right before you showed up. He has a front door in his house and he said, ‘Can you cut a hole in it and put in a stained glass window?’ I said, ‘Better yet, we can build you a whole new door and a stained glass window.’
Around the country, churches are aging quickly. The life expectancy of a stained glass window is 75 to 100 years in Texas. If you put protective glazing over a window, protective glass and don’t ventilate it, the life expectancy is about 75 years. It fails. The lead starts fatiguing, getting older, dried down and the window needs to be re-leaded. We get phone calls all the time from churches.
We had one church from Arkansas reach out to us. The Presbyterian Church there was out of business and selling all of its windows. That’s another thing that we’re seeing now, that churches as they shutter, are selling their windows and you have churches now that are saying, ‘Hey, we bought the windows out of this church. Can you put them into our new church?’
That’s repurposing windows. That’s a big business. Catholic churches on the East Coast are shutting down certain parishes and those windows are being bought out and put into a warehouse where people can go online and buy the windows and move those from the East Coast to Texas. We’ve done two or three Catholic churches that way, where we’ve repurposed the old windows into the sanctuary of their new church that they’re building.
WACOAN: Where do you go to church?
Stanton: Highland Baptist Church. We’ve gone there since college.
We’ve done work for celebrities, such as Kendra Scott. We’ve done Scott Pelley from 60 Minutes. We’ve done his house, which goes back to another scripture that we were given early on when I started the business, out of Proverbs.
‘Show me a man skilled in his craft, and I’ll show you a man that will stand before kings, not obscure people.’
That’s the thing that I’ve been reading up on in these books. The craft industry exists because people have disposable income. If you think about the Arts and Crafts movement, started back in England in the 1800s. by William Morris, the whole thing was a rebellion against the Industrial Revolution, that we don’t want things made by machines. We want things made by hands. So homes were crafted by hands, balustrades and the tile around the fireplace and all this incredibly beautiful stuff. The ornamentation on this building, including the craftsmanship that built the house, was done by craftsmen.
But who had money to buy it? The industrial robber barons, and so it was them, the robber barons, coming to the craftspeople saying, ‘Those are really nice tiles. We can mass produce those, and that pottery that you’re doing, we can slip cast that and you don’t have to do it on a potter’s wheel.’ They’re going, ‘Hey, can I make money doing that too?’
So, hand in glove. The patrons of the arts are those that really appreciate the arts and also have disposable income. That’s what fuels our industry. The same thing with churches. Churches are fueled by those members that are generous givers and that’s where the stained glass window comes in. ‘I want a memorial window for my late grandmother.’
I can’t design it all anymore. The way it used to be, I would go out, I would meet with a client, I would measure the window, I’d come back. Before computers, I would draw a pencil drawing, I’d go back to them and they’d say, ‘That’s great. Can you make this flower a little smaller, or can you enlarge this area?’ I’d go back, and I’d redesign it and go back to them and re-present it. Then we’d negotiate a price and I’d have to go back and build it.
The whole time I’m building a window, I can’t be going out and selling. And the whole time I’m building a window, I can’t be designing. So I realized early on that the secret to success is to find somebody that could build the window for you, in your shop. And I found those people, so I could go out and measure, hand design, and keep them busy building what I’m selling. Now it’s gotten to where I can’t travel across the state of Texas to go measure a window or go install that window. So I have others here in the studio that do that for me and I do what I do best; design.
The business model is to keep reproducing yourself and other people. So it got down to time to hire new artists and Joe Barbieri that worked for us for 30 years as the second artist in the business during COVID, retired [and] started doing his own artwork.
Tessa [who] you met downstairs, she came to me and said, ‘Here are some drawings.’ I said, ‘Can you paint on glass?’ and she said no. So we spent a year running her through programs, teaching her and now she’s a really fine glass painter. In fact, Joe Barbieri came back and said, ‘Dude, she’s much better than I was.’
I’m doing a personal art piece. My dad, when he died, one of the few things I took was a [wooden] box from a shop. When my mom died, I found all my report cards. The report cards say, ‘Bryant has a long way to go to catch up. Bryant does not accept responsibility. He’s only reading on a primer level. He still brings too many toys to school and he doesn’t finish his work. It’s doubtful that he could do third grade work.’ That was the year I got [held] back.
I’m making this as a glass piece. It’ll be me and these [report card comments] will be transparent and those are my toys that I took to school. It’ll be for the Day of the Dead shrine.