Illinois woman’s stained glass shines coast-to-coast

WARRENSBURG, Ill. – While Wall Street has been looking out its windows onto a dark economy, the little stained glass business on Drummer Road remains a ray of sunshine.

“Through the Looking Glass” is a one woman operation run by Laurie Beggin at her circa 1880 farmhouse in rural Warrensburg. She came to stained glass a little later in life, having had careers in everything from state politics to real estate.Beggins is a great believer in better late than never.

And her timing in the stained glass business has turned out to be right on the money. She took lessons at the Glass House in Decatur in 2004 and had her business up and running by May 2007, proving to be a natural at the art. She offers everything from sun-catchers and elaborate windows of her own design to custom sign and glasswork for those willing to pay for a touch of translucent elegance.

A 46-by-36-inch sign she made last fall for the Style FX hair salon in Madison, Wis. exemplifies her talent. The salon’s name stands out in flowing ruby red letters on a clear crinkle glass background that floats above a female head adorned with a dramatic up-do that is the salon’s style signature.

Work like this isn’t cheap – Beggin charges $125 a square foot – but the result is breathtaking.

Selling mainly through a Web site where she has acquired a growing reputation, Beggin also encounters customers who consider them quite a bargain. “The standard for stained glass artists in the Chicago area is about $250 to $300 (a square foot) explained Beggin, 47.

“And while I price myself for the market in the area where I live, what’s happened is that customers in the larger cities have discovered my prices. And I can tell you the people who are making a lot of money are still spending that money on luxury items, and this is happening all over: I sell coast to coast and did a cafe sign for a place in New York.”

The artist discovered the joy of glass while walking to school in Freeport. She passed an unusual house with walls covered in colored glass mosaic that became a twinkling drama as the wide-eyed grade school kid wandered by.

Later, working as a legislative assistant in the Wisconsin State Capital building, her senses were seduced by its acres of imposing stained glass windows and tile mosaics. But it was not until she moved to her present home after her husband, Joseph, a chemical engineer, had a job transfer, that Beggin discovered she could also create art in glass herself.

She now shares the joy of what she does, along with the triumphs and tribulations of everyday living and working, through a blog.

Writing can also be a welcome break from glasswork, which is punishing. Some of her bigger commissions might involve more than 300 pieces of glass in up to 10 colors. All are cut to shape, ground and finished by hand, their edges coated with burnished copper foil and then painstakingly soldered together using a technique pioneered by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

The reward is a nice check, a happy customer and the feeling that comes from creating something beautiful that, with care, will be around long after the artist herself is dust. “I had one man post a comment on my blog saying that, he doesn’t know why, but every time he sees stained glass it calms him down,” said Beggin.