Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Inside Sleepy Eye Stained Glass, Mike’s passion May 17, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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A customer leaves Sleepy Eye Stained Glass with a refurbished window.

A customer leaves Sleepy Eye Stained Glass with a refurbished window.

FROM THE EXTERIOR, the brick building along Sleepy Eye’s main drag, US Highway 14, doesn’t make much of an impression. Weathered windows need replacing. Facade needs updating. Vines creep tendrils into a corner of the structure. And over the front door, a simple sign marks this as the home of Sleepy Eye Stained Glass.

My initial view once inside the retail portion of the business.

My initial view once inside the retail portion of the business.

Many times my husband and I have passed this business on our way to visit family in southwestern Minnesota. Last Saturday, we finally had time to stop. And we met proprietor Mike Mason and his sole employee, Linda.

Mike cuts salvaged stained glass to sell.

Mike cuts salvaged stained glass to sell.

As I roamed the store packed with stained glass supplies, sheets of glass, how-to books, finished stained glass art, lamps and more, Mike salvaged pieces of stained glass. He measured and cut with the precision of 35 years of experience. He’s a self-taught artist. Stained glass art began as a hobby for him “that got out of control,” he says.

Row upon row of stained glass fill the business.

Row upon row of stained glass fills the business in a stained glass lover’s paradise.

Sleepy Eye Stained Glass is known for repair and restoration work, for custom stained glass art and as one of the largest suppliers of stained glass and related products in the Upper Midwest.

A corner in the workshop section of the business.

A corner in the workshop section of the business.

Mike’s love for stained glass is obvious. Although he didn’t tell me how often he’s here working, I expect a lot. He lives only a few doors down, above an antique shop. It’s clear his life’s work (at least for the past 30-plus years) is his passion.

A commissioned work in progress.

A custom work in progress.

When I ask what he’s most proud of, Mike leads me to a television and starts a video showing an interview with Jason Davis of KSTP-TV and his “On the Road” segment. Much to my delight, the story includes images of refurbished stained glass windows at Immanuel Lutheran Church, rural Courtland. It is my mother’s home church. Now I have a personal connection to Mike and his restoration work.

In his workshop, Mike talks to customers who've stopped by to pick up their restored light shade.

In his workshop, Mike talks to customers who’ve stopped by to pick up their restored light shade.

Giddy with excitement, I rush over to tell Mike. He is back cutting glass, drawing blood this time, an occupational hazard.

Daisy the shop cat.

Daisy the shop cat sits below glass sheets sorted by color.

We talk a bit more and I ask about the shop cat, Daisy. She was a stray, well-loved now by this artist who brings her to work daily, feline riding on his shoulder as he walks from his apartment to the shop. Mike instructs me to watch as he throws a tin foil ball for Daisy to chase.

Tools of the trade in the workshop.

Tools of the trade in the workshop.

This place is so unpretentious. Nothing fancy. It’s a working studio with a jumble of tools and glass bits on the floor. Projects in the works. Projects finished. Yet, there’s a certain orderliness to everything, to the sheets and sheets and sheets of glass slid into compartments and the organized displays of how-to books.

Finished stained glass art hangs in a front window.

Finished stained glass art hangs in a front window.

I met a man who holds a piece of stained glass to the light and is struck by its beauty. It’s that simple for Mike. A pane of salvaged stained glass makes him happy. If we could all only experience such simple joy in a day’s work.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Mike also collects and sells lamps like these showcased next to his photo.

Mike also collects and sells lamps like these showcased next to his photo.

I loved this stained glass art on display.

I loved this stained glass art on display.

Salvaged glass.

Salvaged glass.

A sign in a window offers a creative option in stained glass.

A sign in a window offers a creative option in stained glass.

More beautiful stained glass, spotted on a table in the workshop.

More beautiful stained glass, spotted on a table in the workshop.

I also spotted some gorgeous tabletop clocks.

I also saw some gorgeous tabletop clocks.

Hanging in the front window, sunlight really showcases the stained glass art.

Hanging in the front window, this stained glass art shines in natural light.

More beautiful art...

More beautiful art…

 

Stained glass, 75 signs on door

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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22 Responses to “Inside Sleepy Eye Stained Glass, Mike’s passion”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    Chris’s grandfather did stained glass for years and we were able to have a few of his pieces but unfortunately we don’t have them up anywhere in the house right now. I need to figure out where we can use those because not only are they beautiful they are full of memories. Looks like you hit the jackpot with this stop. What a lovely man.

  2. Kevin Kreger Says:

    We stopped in there a couple years ago, and loved the place. They said that they wished there was someone to teach the art to, to take it over someday, and that the place would likely last only as long as Mike. I was struck by the idea that if I had found this place twenty years ago, how different my life might be.

  3. Dan Traun Says:

    Great read; thank you for sharing this. “If we could all only experience such simple joy in a day’s work.” <– nailed it.

  4. Carol King Says:

    There’s something ethereal about stained glass, whether in church windows or any other article. Mike himself seems a special person, with an eye for beauty and a great work ethic, although it seems less like “work” and more a labor of love.
    Beautiful photos, interesting article — thank you.

  5. Laurie at MN Machinery Museum Says:

    Great article! Mike is a great guy and does wonderful work! He redid the windows at our church – preserving the beautiful stained glass windows! Highly recommend him!

  6. DeLores Johnson Says:

    We had a window in our home, made there. We took a picture of another window in our home and brought it to them and it is beautiful! When you are in Belview sometime
    stop by and see it.

  7. Littlesundog Says:

    I love all of the vibrant colors in your images. I know next to nothing about stained glass so this was an educational read for me. Thank you, Audrey.

  8. Sue Ready Says:

    I loved your crisp photographic images. You did a great job showcasing Mike’s talents,and wonderful PR for his business. Yeah Audrey!!

  9. Ooh that looks like a fun place to visit.

  10. A lost art to be sure..

  11. Brian Says:

    This looks like an amazing store. I’d love to visit. Has he been in the same location for the entire 30 years?


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