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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Giddy with excitement, I rush over to tell Mike. He is back cutting glass, drawing blood this time, an occupational hazard.
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.
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.
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.
© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling