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For 40 years, Curran Glass has put the pieces together just for you

John Curran beveling glass for a stained glass window. Photo by Robin Curran.

John Curran beveling glass for a stained glass window. Photo by Robin Curran.

If you attend a house walk or kitchen walk this spring, keep your eyes open for sparkling stained glass panels in the homes you visit. It’s a good bet that, somewhere along the line, they’ve seen the hands of John Curran of Curran Glass Studio, who is celebrating his 40th year in business in 2012. He’s got the scars to prove it.

“My hands have gotten pretty beaten up,” Curran acknowledges. “I’ve probably built close to 4,000 windows for clients in the Chicago area, and restored or repaired three times that many.”

Established in Oak Park in 1972 and now located in Berwyn, Curran Glass Studio has survived even as other stained glass businesses have come and gone. Why? For one, Curran excels at his craft—his list of restoration clients alone reads like an architectural tour. Yet the owner of a tiny bungalow receives the same expert craftsmanship as the curators of a world-famous building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Curran is widely recognized as one of the foremost craftsmen in his field, with studios from across the country seeking his expertise. But when he set up shop in 1972, he started from square one. A graduate of Oak Park and River Forest High School and the youngest of four children, Curran had to figure out how to support himself when his parents packed up their Oak Park home and moved away.

In the early 1970s, with only $8 in his pocket, he’d taken a hiatus from high school to hitchhike to California and back, finding an artists’ workshop in San Francisco where he began working in stained glass. (A suburban newspaper, writing about Curran a few years later, refers to him as “the quintessence of the 1960s’ counter-cultural hero.”) Upon his return to Oak Park, he finished high school, watched as his parents drove off into the sunset, and embarked on a journey of lifelong learning that’s still going strong.

“Back then, there were no ‘new’ stained glass studios around,” Curran recalls. “Just a few old studios with old men, mostly from the old country, who’d been around forever.” Curran visited these old men, watched them at work, and asked a lot of questions. He roamed the alleys of the West Side and Oak Park, finding old stained glass windows that people had torn out of their homes in favor of a more modern look. He patiently dismantled these windows to learn how they were constructed, then put them back together again.

Over the years Curran learned the intricacies of stained glass design, with the result that the windows he creates are usually thought to be original to the homes in which they are installed. The stained glass restoration capabilities of his studio are unique in the Chicago area, thanks to an unparalleled “library” of out-of-production American and European antique glass. Curran also does all of his own hand beveling and wheel engraving, creating exquisite pieces on century-old equipment that he rebuilt. With a collection of custom-made kilns, he bends glass for lamps, turret windows, antique showcases and more. His beveling and bending work is sought by other studios from Maine to California.

From a battered file folder, Curran pulls out a yellowed ad from a 1970s Chicago newspaper. The ad proclaims “A Renaissance Man in Oak Park” to be profiled by Bill Kurtis on the evening news. A photo shows John Curran in his early 20s, with long brown hair, above a caption that reads: “In today’s plastic world of mass production it’s nice to find an artisan who has revived a beautiful old craft…stained glass.”

Four decades later, Curran’s hair is short and white, but that caption is truer than ever. In a world where stained glass is now mass-produced in faraway places and sold in big-box stores, it’s good to know that there are still artisans that carry on the old-fashioned way, creating something just for you. In the words of a happy customer from Indiana, “It’s good to have a craftsman like John Curran still around.”

See new work by John Curran at the Riverside Arts Weekend, May 19-20, 2012, Riverside, IL, and at the Evanston Lakeshore Arts Festival, August 4-5, 2012, Evanston, IL.

Curran Glass Studio
6507 Ogden Avenue
Berwyn, IL 60402
Phone 708-795-8620
Fax 708-795-9424

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