It was 1978 when a strike at an Iowa beef-packing plant left Mark and Jeanne Bogenrief without a job. But like they say, when one door closes another one opens. And for the Bogenriefs, it wasn't so much of a door but a window -- several of them, in fact.
What started off as a home project has led to a successful stained-glass window manufacturing operation. Bogenrief Studios creates 30 to 50 unique, handcrafted projects a year, with each piece taking anywhere from 800 to 2,000 hours to make. But we wonder: Why work with such a tedious, seemingly dying artform like stained glass windows?
"It's better than the packing house," says Jeanne jokingly, but then she adds: "We get to create beautiful things that will be around long after we're gone.
Though the Bogenriefs, their two sons, Seth and Jesse, and a handful of other artisans work in the small town of Sutherland, Iowa, (population: 600), the detailed craftsmen draw inspiration from their travels, art and antique markets.
"All of my guys are very creative, and it's very interesting to see what they can do if given the time and material to do it," says the proud mom and studio owner. Each of the family members have their own niche within the business, she adds. For instance, Jesse, 35, works with blown glass, while older brother Seth, 36, takes care of the of the fusing, slumping and painting.
The family works together to make sure each piece displays the three signs of fine stained glass: Quality of the materials, workmanship and artistic design. Each process of beveling (cutting a clear plate glass to make prisms, or bevels), soldering and letting should result in a smooth and clean surface. And, oftentimes, the studio doesn't determine the full worth of a piece until it's finished, since the quality of the final product and work that has gone into it determines pricing.
Also, the Bogenriefs use a high-quality material called art glass and, many times, use only small parts of it to create a whole piece. "Like on a flower petal, we'll pick out the dark and light areas of the glass," says Mark. "We'll burn away 60 percent of the sheet just to get the glass we want."
But when asked if they worry about the shrinking industry that is stained glass, Mark says he's not worried. "When you get down to caliber of windows, it gets pretty few in the country." Their work speaks for itself.
All photos courtesy of Bogenrief Studios, Inc.
We’re basically your best friend… with better taste. Learn more