Windows For The Soul
The Story of Bovard Studio

Left: Bovard Studio 40,000 sq.ft. facilities on 76 acre campus, Fairfield IA.

The Story of Bovard Studio

OVER THE PAST 25 years Bovard Studio has grown from just myself to a staff of over 70 employees. Our artists and craftspeople embody some of the finest talent of our time. Our art department consists of eight glass painters and four designers originating from around the world and our fabricators, restoration staff, and installers have diverse backgrounds and skills as rich and varied as our artists. We truly feel fortunate to have artists from Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Canada, Jamaica, and of course most are from the U.S.A.

Prior to establishing Bovard Studio I enjoyed a career as an independent artist for more than 20 years. During that time I was an active member of many artist guilds and trade organizations. Some of my most rewarding experiences occurred when my studio was located in a large warehouse space that accommodated many artists and their studios. The creative camaraderie and cooperative atmosphere was stimulating and I enjoyed working and studying in the company of those artists. However, due to the singular nature of the independent artist most worked alone, producing work exclusive of one another.

At Bovard Studio groups of artists are organized to collaborate and combine forces as a community on all projects. Through this experience I feel I have glimpsed the secret of the Renaissance and its rapid advancement of the arts. I am convinced when groups of artists cooperate and work together every day on project after project, their artistic skills and talents grow and flourish far more rapidly than one would have thought possible when working individually. It has been an amazing inspiration to watch the synergistic growth of our artists.

Much of the success of Bovard Studio’s artists can be attributed to the fact that we do not limit our search to experienced glass painters for our art department. In fact glass painting experience is not even considered an asset. Instead we look for talented and creative artists and teach them to paint on glass. When a brilliant artist learns a new medium, the result is brilliant art. It only stands to reason that it is far more difficult, and rare, for a mediocre artist to become a great painter than for a great artist to learn a new medium.

One of the primary motivations behind Bovard Studio’s development of our Life of Christ scenes and Religious Symbol Medallion’s (see pages 22 to 26), was to create a training program for our new artists to learn and practice the unfamiliar medium of glass painting. They establish their new found skills by painting hundreds of pieces of the same art glass scene. This repetition allows them to master the medium of glass painting in an efficient, economical, and productive way.

Bovard Studio has a number of wholesale distributors that supply a standardized line of hand painted Medallion Scenes to the independent glass studios in the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan, Africa and South America. In addition many of these studios also order custom and original art glass painting directly from Bovard Studio for their religious and other art glass projects.

Many people have asked me how Bovard Studio became so successful in such a short period of time. One major ingredient is that I love my work. For any business to succeed in the long term, you must have a passion what you are doing. Statistics have shown that the success rate for new businesses is very low. Unless you start with outside capital, you may have to work for very little money. Oftentimes, you must pay for the privilege of working in your chosen field for up to three years. This is because most or all of the income generated by the new business must be reinvested back into the business for it to develop and grow. The bottom line is, it’s important to select a business you love enough to work at for very little money, often for free, and sometimes at a loss, until you get established. The large majority of new businesses fail within the first three years, so all you may end up with is the joy you had from the effort. As long as you show up and put in a full day’s work you are still in business. The longer you do this, the more your chances for success increase.

When I started as an independent artist in 1971, I struggled to make a living as a fine artist, a painter. I had considerable success exhibiting my work in museums and galleries across the U.S. and Europe, including one man shows at some prestigious New York City galleries. I received many approving reviews of my art work in newspapers and magazines and had my work selected for publication in several art books. (See page 157) This was a superb boost for my creative ego but did little to support a growing family which included my loving wife and five children. I managed to sell a substantial amount of art work, but at the end of the year there was far too little difference between the amount of income from gross sales and the expenses incurred to produce those sales.

It took some time for me to recognize that the system is heavily stacked against the artist, as it is in few other businesses. A survey conducted several years ago by the periodical Art Business News, revealed that 90% of the art sold in the United States is categorized as "traditional". My circumstantial observation is that the vast majority of artists graduating from art schools in the United States are contemporary artists, yet contemporary art comprises only 10% of the market. To top it all off, I was a contemporary artist.

An additional obstacle is the gallery system. There is huge competition among artists to be exhibited by reputable art galleries through which an artist’s work is sold, and his or her reputation is established. The standard practice and requirement for artists is to supply the galleries with their art on a consignment basis. This means the gallery has no financial risk in inventory, leaving the artist to support the gallery with their artwork and assume most of the risk. Many times the artist is expected to pay for other expenses as well, such as framing and some advertising costs. On top of all this, most galleries take 50% to 60% commissions on the gross sale amount of the art. These terms, combined with the overabundance of artists willing to submit to them, have left very few artists in a position to make a reasonable living from their art work.

I had experimented with glass art as early as 1970. In 1982 I took a job as the art director for a company which had developed and patented the process for laser cutting of glass and support systems for abrasive water-jet cutting of glass. It was my duty to develop art and viable products for this new technology to produce. I gained valuable experience working with teams of high caliber engineers developing these technologies for glass cutting. Most of the art work we produced was computer aided design (CAD) which was in very early development at that time. Being no computer whiz I was always selected as the "test dummy" to see if the systems the engineers developed were user friendly.
One of my strengths is that I have always been an enthusiastic individual. My contagious enthusiasm has always helped me to sell my work and selling the new products we developed came naturally to me. As it turned out, I was the most successful sales person in the company. I was continually getting pushed more and more into sales and eventually became the sales manager. The drawback was that I was doing less and less art work and realizing I was no longer doing what I loved to do, I made a decision to move on and resume my career as a full-time fine artist. Fortunately, my compensation at this company included a stock package and I was able to sell my stock to procure enough capital to start over again.

Shortly after I left that company, one of the manufacturer’s representatives asked me to develop and manufacture a product line of stained glass for the door and window industry. The idea was to distribute these windows through lumber yard chains and home supply stores. For many months I declined, as my plan was to return to being a fine art painter who also worked in the medium of stained glass.

As fate would have it by January of 1986 I had hit rock bottom financially. The next time this representative called to make the same request again, I said yes. With much urgency in his voice he informed me that he needed the product line developed and the initial stocking order produced and shipped within 30 days. I told him it would take me at least 30 days to raise the capital before I could even start the project. He asked me how much capital I needed, I gave him a number, and the very next morning I received a check from him via Federal Express for the full amount I had quoted. The rest as they say is history and Bovard "Art Glass" Studio was born.

Fortunately I already had a large studio space in an old factory that had been converted into about 30 artist’s studios. Having the facilities, I designed the product line, hired several craftspeople, built jigs, set up a production system and shipped out several hundred octagon stained glass window inserts 30 days later.

I should state at this point that I feel I had an advantage over many people in that I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. My father had a small business, plus I had uncles and great uncles with small businesses. My wife also grew up in a family of business people. Her father had four businesses during his lifetime, and her maternal grandfather had a very successful large business. So as children both my wife and I witnessed first hand the risks and rewards of business. We lived through the ups and downs, the difficult times, and watched as perseverance turned failures into successes. Both of us were well aware of the swing and cadence of a small business before I started Bovard Studio. A supportive spouse and family is essential in any small business venture because the downs always go along with the ups.

By the end of 1986 we had landed several additional window insert accounts and our production department was in full swing. During that time we continued to develop our custom art glass division and had completed several smaller commissions, but more importantly we successfully completed our first church window commission. Over the next two years our custom business grew and by the end of 1988 it was clear to me that Bovard Studio’s future was in architectural and ecclesiastic windows. I made a decision to concentrate our efforts in that direction.

I wrote to my production stained glass customers and gave them permission to use our copyrighted product lines which we had developed exclusively for them. I included a list of other art glass companies who would be more than happy to accept the accounts. Within a few months we filled our last production orders and we were out of the production business. We were now 100% committed to architectural stained glass. Our target markets would be churches, courthouses, libraries, museums, state government buildings, military bases, restaurants, and hotels. I was exhilarated to be moving forward into this new phase of business. Architectural glass was the most fulfilling thing I had ever been involved in and I am proud to say that we have been growing ever since.

One of the most important realities an entrepreneur must face is their personal limitation. My experience as a child watching my father and uncles, helped me to see the importance of this lesson early on. So when the circumstance presented itself, I was mentally prepared to hire people who were more talented, with exceptional skills in areas I was lacking. For example our business manager and CFO (chief financial officer) has a strong accounting, banking and small business background with more than 25 years experience. He is one of the smartest businessmen I know. Our production director is a manufacturing engineer with a master’s degree in business management with more than 30 years work experience. He is also a gifted Apostolic Catholic priest and bishop. We have several exceptionally talented and gifted artists and designers who run circles around my artistic limitations. Our training instructor for our stained glass fabricators has over 20 years experience and is one of the finest stained glass craftsmen that I know. He is a kind, patient and talented teacher who enthusiastically passes his talents on to new apprentices and helps our experienced craftspeople improve their skills.

I could go on listing the many qualities and special skills each person brings, suffice it to say that every one of our staff members have talents and gifts they bring with them everyday. As a bonus, this group of people are fun to be around. Needless to say, most have many other opportunities to practice their avocation, but they are here at Bovard Studio because they love what they are doing.

Stained glass window at Baker University Chapel in Baldwin, Kansas, restored by Bovard Studio.

A rendering for a new window to match the historic style of existing stained glass windows installed in a Catholic church in Indiana.

Easter Lily Window at First United Presbyterian Church.

A new stained glass window by Bovard Studio in the Tiffany plated style for a McLean, Virginia, estate.

Rendering of a standard window theme, Christ with the Children.

An example of one of the production window inserts from our product line of “24k gold plated” leaded glass windows we sold through Lowes home supply centers.

Right: A rendering for the rose window shown above installed in Church of the Ascension, Overland Park, Kansas.

Installation view of twelve foot (3.66 m) diameter rose window for Church of the Ascension, Overland Park, Kansas.

A contemporary design window for Council Bluffs, Iowa Public Library entrance mezzanine.

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