Connect with us

Local News

Billings stained glass factory produces ‘Montana-Made’ artwork



Billings, Montana – One of the oldest and most unchanging crafts is stained glass, which has a history of more than a thousand years. One person in Billings is attempting to preserve that kind of expression.

Kennedy’s Stained Glass Studio is owned by Susan Kennedy Sommerfeld and is situated in Billings at 2923 2nd Ave. N. In 1974, she opened the studio.

“I felt like I was ready to move into my own studio and not have employees, kind of just do my work at my pace. A little more freedom to come and go,” Kennedy Sommerfeld said on Wednesday. “A little bit more time with family and those kinds of things. It has allowed me to do that. I just felt like I was ready for that kind of freedom, although I’m very, very busy. My clients are amazing and understanding.”

Her goal is to produce tomorrow’s antiques.

“My favorite part is designing and picking out the glass. That’s the fun part. You can think about it as if you were painting with glass. You’re really finding these gorgeous pieces that have been poured already, and finding just the right pieces in the most beautiful areas of the sheets of glass to use,” Kennedy Sommerfeld said. “What’s sort of captivating about glass, is that you think you’ve picked a piece of glass and that’s what it’s going to look like. But that’s not true, because depending on the time of the year and depending where the sun is, it will change all the time a little bit.”

The earliest known man-made glass, according to the Stained Glass Association of America, dates back to approximately 2750 and 2625 BC. Romans initially installed glass in windows in the first century AD.

Artists like Susan Kennedy Sommerfeld continue to practice their trade today.

“It seems to be a little bit my generation, and the next generation’s not really, you know, bucking up and coming into this industry as much,” Kennedy Sommerfeld said. “So I’m hoping that will happen because it is an art form that we really don’t want to lose.”

Alice Kennedy, Susan’s mother, learned discipline and devoted the majority of her life to instructing others, including Susan.

“I came to visit my mother, who when she retired from teaching, decided that she was just going to do stained glass. That’s all she wanted to do. She was absolutely entranced. So she went to Denver and she found the most beautiful work she could find, and she asked if she could study with them. So she did,” Kennedy Sommerfeld said. “I happened to come home, I don’t know, maybe it was a year or two later. She was doing an art show in Missoula. She said, ‘You come along with me, and I’ll teach you how to do this.’ So I did.”

But she had to travel a long way to finally build her own studio.

“I think it’s important that as an artist, people realize that you kind of have to pay your dues. So yes, I am doing what I want 42 years later. But I started by teaching classes and selling glass and doing all of those things, which may not have been where I really wanted to spend my time, but it’s sort of paying your dues,” Kennedy Sommerfeld said. “And I did that for 15 years before I finally thought, ‘Ok, I’ve been here long enough, I probably can just do commission work.'”

In the confines of her studio in Billings, Susan has produced hundreds of works of art that are now shown all over the world, including at St. Pius X Catholic Parish in Billings.

“Because the church is in the round, we worked off of the cycle of the day. It starts over on the East side with a dark glass. As it transports around the church it gets lighter, and then as it finishes up, it gets darker again symbolizing the cycle of the day,” said Mark Sevier, a parishioner at the church and a member of the Arts and Buildings Committee for St. Pius X, on Wednesday. “I would call that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It’s just plain beautiful.”

Working on the project with Susan, according to Sevier, was a pleasure.

“Susan is a woman who is an incredibly gifted craftsperson, artist, and musician. She’s been very involved in the parish. But she takes the spirituality of her life, puts it into her work,” Sevier said. “Her spirituality comes out in everything that she does. It’s the spirit of creation and that’s what feeds her.”

Susan is also appreciative of the chance to keep doing art.

“I think my mom really gave me a special, special gift by saying, ‘Come on, you need to learn to do this.’ I mean, I didn’t know what kind of gift that was when she invited me to go to that show with her. So I’m pretty lucky,” Kennedy Sommerfeld said. “I also feel really lucky that I get to actually practice my art on a regular basis.”

Susan asks individuals who are interested to see her during ArtWalk in June or to look her up on Facebook.

“Feel free to call and ask if you can come for a visit. I’m going to be open for ArtWalk,” Kennedy Sommerfeld said. “Make sure you sign up for my Facebook page so you can get info on any of the latest things that we’re doing here, or what project I just finished and there will be a photo on there.”

“Oftentimes I just say it’s sort of like doing a jigsaw puzzle, except you cut all of the pieces for it,” Kennedy Sommerfeld said. “I don’t think that it’s necessarily hard to learn, but you need to be able to stick with it.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *