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Imagine my surprise when my long-ago business partner (and high-school sweetheart) called me the other day to say, “Hey, our stained glass is in the new movie ‘The Last Black Man in San Francisco’—and it looks good!” When I looked up the movie online, I saw our Studio’s very first commissioned stained glass work (done when we were straight out of San Francisco’s Lowell High School), created for a once magnificent but at the time somewhat run-down Victorian mansion in San Francisco’s Mission District. At the time, we were starving artists saving money for a trip to Paris (hoping to get a glass apprenticeship there) and living in a relative’s garage, where we had a workbench to build my much beloved stained glass creations.
We were self-taught but passionate. At age 15, just a few years before, I had seen the respected Bay Area artist Mark Adams’ stained glass at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco, and I’d fallen in love. Real art, real colored glass, ebullient shapes—it was magical for me! I wondered what kind of scissors could have cut those shapes out of glass, and I knew I wanted to do this work “when I grew up.” I had none of the fears that can develop later in life when wanting to dive into something new.
The four-story, turreted and multi-roomed Victorian was owned by a brilliant but church-poor engineer, who shared it with one of our high school English teachers. Little by little, over the years, they would repair and restore the home on their small salaries. For them, it was a labor of love, and they trusted us and our unstoppable enthusiasm! They managed to scrape up a minimal commission fee and set us loose.
Since that time, I apprenticed in France, where we helped restore some of the stained glass at Chartres Cathedral. Later, going on to create custom glass for homes and even installed acres of intricate high-end Tiffany-style panels in a series of casinos in Las Vegas. And, as you probably know, I later branched out into designing and installing some of the largest carved crystal and LED edge-lit murals and Donor Recognition Walls in the country for clients like prestigious medical centers, universities, performing arts centers, and libraries. Recently, a client with whom I’ve worked for over 40 years had me unpack and restore a fabulous 25-ft. long stained glass mural I did for him at the Southpoint Casino in Las Vegas—and it’s now back in place, with new lighting, better than ever!
The trust and confidence our first San Francisco clients gave us “kids” helped us foster our entrepreneurship, my urge toward mastery of my craft, and my continuing love of glass and the way it interacts with light. The reviews are calling “The Last Black Man In San Francisco” one of the year’s best films. As one of them put it, “While there is great acting from legends and newcomers, the real star of ‘The Last Black Man In San Francisco’ is that piece of architecture.” And, “The home is an architectural gem, decorated with stained-glass windows, ornate columns and balustrades, gorgeous inlays and built-ins…”
“Weird as it sounds, this movie is a love story about me and a house,” writes star Jimmie Fails in the film’s press release. “It’s a tribute to the notion of home that we all carry.” Here is what I remember best: The love that went into this home and house, recognized by its then owner for its inner magic despite its shabby state and lovingly restored inch by inch, was contagious! I can honestly say that all of my adventures in glass designing and carving, lighting, even installing that followed have been acts of honoring and acts of love.
Note: As artists working over many decades, we have seen the effects of gentrification. Artists have often chosen the great old (but often run down) neighborhoods in cities throughout the US, and even the world, to find their still affordable abandoned warehouse or storefront spaces to do their work. Today that is getting harder to find and certainly most heartbreakingly challenging for all the neighborhoods and families that may have been living there for generations as real estate gets converted to high-end living spaces! I like the awareness this film is bringing to the economic stratification and struggles of everyday people, and the concept of HOME. I hope every city awakens to this and takes into consideration the needs of its diverse neighbors and helps preserve or provide resources to support the needs and soul-filled character of each town. Honoring—HOME. We are ALL interconnected.
“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” –Martin Luther King Jr