Every day, thousands of people drive through St. Peter unaware that they’re passing a hidden gem. Right off the main drag, tucked behind an historic home, sits Stained Glass Studio, the workplace and store of master-artisan Bob Vogel.
A visit is always inspiring. Stained glass windows, lamps, slumped and fused glass, as well as original glass jewelry is available for sale. Through the store and into his work space is the most likely place to find a warm and welcoming Vogel. There is usually at least one project-in-process as well as a host of photos and artifacts, the evidence of his long-standing love for travel.
The Long Way to St. Peter
Vogel and his wife, Victoria, set up the studio in 2000 but the road to St. Peter led him literally around the world.
Immediately after graduating from North Dakota State University, which he attended on a basketball scholarship, Vogel hit the road. “I bought a one-way ticket to Europe and bought a Volkswagen bus in Paris. It blew the engine on Christmas Eve in Bella Palanka, Yugoslavia,” he recalled.
“I’ve got my Harley so I go out and watch the crops grow. You hardly come across traffic. It’s just a sweet place to ride.”
“Then I got on the Orient Express to Istanbul and was there for a month or so. It was getting cold so I decided to take a look at India and went overland as far as Iran. The ten-day war for Bangladesh broke out so I couldn’t go overland anymore. I took my first airplane ride out of Tehran, Iran into Bombay.”
Settling into a Rhythm
Vogel began an annual rhythm, painting houses in the warm months then traveling in the winter. “I became a blue-collar house painter. Every fall I would put my ladders away and whatever I saved up would be what I would blow overseas. I did that for 35 years and saw a lot of countries.
“If I was blowing through the money too quick I’d come back in the winter. To be constructive I picked up stained glass. I wanted to make lamp shades and they were big and awkward and don’t stack well. I filled up my basement, and the attic was filled. I made 150 lampshades and got pretty good at soldering. Windows were pretty easy after the three-dimensional lampshades. I thought I should try and sell some of these and go into the business.”
Marriage Changes Things
The rhythm of paint, travel, work on stained glass changed when he got married.
“I was 50 when I got married – spur of the moment on the Rock of Gibraltar,” Vogel recalls. “I lived in South Minneapolis and she lived in Richfield. Once, on her way to South Dakota, where she was from, Victoria came across this house in St. Peter. We were looking for something with a big profile where we could open up a studio. I could paint houses in St. Peter and she’s a nurse so we packed up and moved.”
Referring to the standalone studio behind their house, he said, “This building burned down about a week before I was going to open. I lost about a hundred lampshades and about a hundred windows.” Alex, Bob’s son sketched out a design for the new building in five minutes. In about a year, with lots of their own labor, the Vogels had completed the current studio.
Vogel says one of the best things about St. Peter and the region is the reception they received when they arrived, “We were welcomed!” He’s also glad for the pace of life, “I’ve got my Harley so I go out and watch the crops grow. You hardly come across traffic. It’s just a sweet place to ride. When I had my first Harley I’d ride on Lake Street in Minneapolis. It’s not that much fun in traffic. It’s quiet down here but it’s nice.”
The family works collaboratively on most projects. “I’m color blind. My wife is good with color. Alex, my son, is good with imagination and drawing faces,” he said. They discuss a project together and even often disagree, though it’s not hard for them to defer to each other’s expertise.
“It’s like the guru sitting on top of the mountain when someone came up and said, ‘Oh Great Guru, what is the secret of throwing the perfect clay pot?’ He said, ‘Go back down, throw 10,000 of them, Then come back and ask me.’”
“I’ll lay something out and Victoria chooses the colors. She’ll say, ‘That’s not blue, that’s purple!’ That’s how a lot of these windows come around. Between the three of us we’re capable of a fair amount of stuff!”
“Capable” is clearly an understatement! A casual observation of their work reveals the craftsmanship to be of highest quality. One of Vogel’s specialties is reproducing, in glass, paintings of women by Alphonse Mucha, a Czech Art Nouveau painter. Alex, who lives in Colorado, paints the faces. When the glass face has been cut it is carefully packed, shipped, painted and shipped again.
A Long, Slow Path
Like most artisans, Vogel’s path to mastery was slow and tedious. He started with a class, “I made a little window like we do in our classes… I gave it to my mother and she was happy.”
The stained glass bug had bitten and he dove into the deep end, creating lampshades. He recalled how tedious the process was at first until he had a breakthrough.
“It was the 17th lamp! I was frustrated and it was very laborious. I had an epiphany on that 17th lamp. It just got easier. It’s like the guru sitting on top of the mountain when someone came up and said, ‘Oh Great Guru, what is the secret of throwing the perfect clay pot?’ He said, ‘Go back down, throw 10,000 of them, then come back and ask me.’ Pushing through those first 16 lamps… that’s what it took for me.”
Stained glass studio is open every day October–April from 10:00 am–6:00 pm. Visitors are always welcome! The Vogels also often periodic beginner classes in stained glass. You can get more information from the Stained Glass Studio website but the best way to reach them is to pick up the phone.