Colorsmith Studio: Riverside's best-kept secret

Stained-glass artisans have called the village home for 35 years

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By Bob Uphues

Editor

David Condon's stained-glass studio was one of Riverside's best-kept secrets for more than 30 years. 

Colorsmith, which has manufactured and restored stained glass windows for everything from churches to single-family homes to the White House, set up shop near Harlem Avenue on East Burlington Street in 1979.

If you didn't know it was there, you might not have noticed it at all, despite some stained-glass windows displayed in the front windows. Condon's business didn't depend on walk-in traffic and, besides, there wasn't even a sign outside the front door.

But less than a month ago, he moved the studio to the Arcade Building, 1 Riverside Road, in downtown Riverside in a storefront facing East Quincy Street, and people have noticed.

"I have a lot of people come in and say, 'I didn't know you were here,'" said Condon. "It hasn't helped that we didn't have a sign on the building."

There's one now — a beautiful one Condon designed specifically for the new space, one that complements other stained-glass windows on the first floor of the Arcade Building, including ones he manufactured for owners of the building through the years.

It's not an accident that Condon, who lives in Riverside with his wife and frequent artistic collaborator Gail Sellers, wound up in the Arcade Building.

"I've always looked at this building; it's always been on my radar," he said. "It has so many plusses, and I love the vintage feel of it."

With his former HQ in foreclosure, the time was right to find a new home. He'd been preparing for the move since February.

"It was a good time for a change," Condon said. "I don't like change for change's sake."

Condon, who grew up in LaGrange, fell into the art of stained glass almost by accident. While he was in college, a friend of his came to visit and brought a suitcase full of glass, supplies and tools. The two set up a workshop in the basement and started experimenting.

"It was a way to kill time," Condon said.

He continued doing stained-glass work as a hobby for a couple of years before joining his friend at a studio in Los Gatos, California, which specialized in stained glass for churches.

Five years later he headed back to the Chicago area and set up his own studio on East Burlington Street in Riverside, where he remained until last month.

When you first walk into the new space, it has a showroom feel to it, but it's actually a working studio. Condon oversees two full-time employees and three part-timers, who work on everything from restoring historic church windows to creating new pieces, like stained-glass doors and windows for single-family homes.

Church windows account for about a third of Colorsmith's business, said Condon, while restoration accounts for another third.

The largest church restoration project the company worked on was for St. Joseph Church in Ames, Iowa, which had Colorsmith artisans working on 12 tall Gothic-style windows.

"It was a total restoration; we took every piece apart and re-leaded the windows," said Condon. "It took three months."

Colorsmith has also been called upon to do window restoration for such landmark buildings as Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House, Tomek House, his home and studio in Oak Park and Unity Temple.

Condon himself is partial to Gothic-style painted glass windows, pointing to the ones at St. Luke Church in River Forest and at Quigley North Seminary's chapel in Chicago as examples.

But the studio has worked on many contemporary designs, including the windows for the chapel at the new Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago. The windows there feature bright colors and abstracted natural elements like flowers and plants.

"I don't mind stepping out of my comfort zone," Condon said.

In fact, the Lurie commission led directly to Colorsmith being called upon to create eight stained-glass windows that have adorned two rooms in the White House the past two holiday seasons.

An event planner who works for the White House saw the Lurie windows and invited Condon and designer David Lee Csicsko to craft windows for Barack and Michelle Obama, who hang four of the windows, which sport a wreath-like motif, in a room facing the Rose Garden and four more in the state dining room.

According to Sellers, the windows will be part of the collection in the Obama Presidential Library after his term in office ends.

Condon mainly attends to the administrative side of the business these days, though he does chip in fabricating windows when required. But he sees the studio as a team. It's not his handiwork specifically that makes Colorsmith successful.

"I consider the studio one unit," Condon said. "We're all working it together."

Contact:
Email: buphues@wjinc.com Twitter: @RBLandmark

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Jennifer Joan Taylor from Chicago, Illinois  

Posted: November 7th, 2014 10:38 PM

Terrific article! Well done.

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