“Pearl River Glass Studio began in 1975 as the dream of Andrew Young to establish a professional studio providing state-of-the-art stained glass to clients across the country.”
Circa 1976. Founder, Andrew Cary Young and Reggie DeFreese.
Circa 1976. Founder, Andrew Cary Young & the prgs “rat pack.”
Pearl River Glass Studio turns 40 years old in 2015. In 1975, after returning home from college at LSU, Andrew Cary Young rented a one car garage behind an antique store in downtown Jackson. He ordered a crate of glass and a few boxes of lead and began as Andrew Young Design Services. The first window Young made is pictured to the left here. His first project was what came to be known at the studio as an “art piece.” The dream of making stained glass as art was the genesis of Pearl River Glass Studio.
Later that year in the fall Reggie DeFreese, from Bastrop, Louisiana, joined Young in getting the newly named Pearl River Glass Studio off the ground. (pictured together at top of page) DeFreese and Young had been college roommates and classmates in the stained glass program at LSU. One of only a few college level stained glass programs in America, then and now. Both set out with a similar vision that stained glass was a medium for artistic expression like easel painting and sculpture.
Pearl River Glass Studio as a name was chosen to place the studio in its locality and to have a neutral title. In this way all future members of the studio could be a part of the same company and not an extension of just one person.
In the early years the economy was recovering from the recession caused by the first oil embargo by the OPEC countries. After DeFreese arrived the studio PRGS moved to a small commercial space on North State Street for six months. In April of 1976 the studio moved onto Millsaps Avenue and its present location. Our first hires were trained using the federal Comprehensive Employment Training Act (CETA Program).
Tom Crouch, our next staff member, came on board in 1978 and stayed for seven years. Many members of the Jackson arts community have worked at the studio over the years including Milton Hairston, BeBe Wolfe, Ronnie Lindsey, Elizabeth Robinson, K. C. Williams, Jerrod Partridge, Jeff Seabold, Ginger Cook Williams, Ashley Welienman, Ashley McKay, and many others.
The first commission awarded Young was for a sidelight in a residence for his childhood home’s next door neighbor. In the early years the studio did a good number of residential projects. Gradually the studio started creating windows for churches and larger and larger commissions. From the beginning the goal was to manage the customers’ expectations by providing a detailed color rendering, thorough explanation of the scope of work, client participation in the design process, building well-crafted stained glass windows and complete installation service.
The central lesson learned in the early years of creating windows for churches is that the committee members wanted to understand the significance and symbolism of the designs. Young’s passion for contemporary design was tempered by the client’s expressed desire for the meaning behind the designs.
The style that Pearl River has developed is one based on inspiration from Holy Scripture that describes images and actions that are depicted in the window. He knew that when someone looked at a window the depiction should be easily understood, for example, a descending dove as a symbol for the Holy Spirit at Jesus’ Baptism.
It literally took decades before Young felt like the studio was producing the level of design that he dreamed about during the beginning. Neither Young nor DeFreese had apprenticed at an old line American stained glass studio. In the beginning the learning curve was very steep. But all the design and craftsmanship lessons were hard and thoroughly learned.
It is like the adage of which came first, the chicken or the egg? We have a saying at the studio that the window looks just like the design sketch. When looking at a photograph of a completed window next to a design rendering, it is indeed hard to differentiate between the two. The evolution of our process has gone from trial and error to trial and learning.
When making stained glass windows, you are also learning to repair stained glass windows. The skill set of a stained glass craftsman is unique. In the early years one of the great teachings of the craft was to take a window apart and to put it back together again. We were able to see what worked and what didn’t. Our early repairs of stained glass have led to a mastery of skills and stained glass restoration that follows proven protocols.
Beginning in 1988 Young started writing the APB document, essentially a detailed business plan. The document was a thorough breakdown of all the Art, Production, and Business processes the company faced on a daily basis. The APB became a blueprint for managing the growth of the company from $20,000 in sales the first year to over $1 million in sales in the fiscal year ending in 2008. During the Great Recession our sales dropped by half but by taking austerity measures the company was able to remain stable until recovery began in 2013.
In 2011 plans were made to enhance the company by focusing on the original intent of having a trained and experienced staff in a well-equipped studio taking seriously the idea of glass as a medium for artistic expression. The idea that glass can be the most expressive of artistic media has been at the core of the company from day one. The implementation of the 2012 business plan and the $1 million dollar investment in buildings, renovations, and equipment has created the platform for the next forty years.