For every East Village business that’s opening or closing, dozens are quietly making it. Here’s one of them: Kelly Glass Studio and Gallery.
Photos: Vivienne Gucwa
Patti Kelly took a stained-glass making class at All by Hand Studio in Bay Ridge in 1976 and “took to it like a duck to water,” she said. After years of study, she opened her own Kelly Glass Studio and Gallery in Dumbo in 1989, then moved to St. Marks Place in 1992 and eventually settled at 368 East Eighth Street. Her pieces have made their way into the homes of John Leguizamo and Mary Lou Quinlan, and can be seen around the neighborhood – everywhere from a door panel at 243 East Seventh Street to the façade of the Cooper Union clock. We asked her how she’s managed to make it in the East Village for two decades.
How long have you been in the East Village?
I came to the East Village in 1992. First I was at 29 St. Marks Place and there for two years before I moved to a bigger space on Essex between Stanton and Rivington. It was an old Jewish theater. The rent got too high so then I moved to Avenue C between Seventh and Eighth where I was for about 12 years until the rent was too much. I’d started at $1,800 a month and when I left it was $4,500 a month. Five years ago I moved here to East Eighth between Avenues C and D. This space was already an artist’s studio. He was a sculptor who moved to Mexico. Before that it was a hardware store.
You moved around a lot.
Landlords want someone who can pay rent regularly. I am an artist and that was hard to do some months. Some months you make a lot to last you a year, some you make nothing. September 11th made it very hard to pay the rent on time. Some work pays $20,000 a job. The most I’ve gotten for a job is $50,000 and that was an incredible amount of work over five months. There is some work I do for $250, sometimes I barter. It took two years for me to recover from 9/11. No one wanted to come down here. Anyone who did didn’t have money to spend on stained glass. Before 9/11, it was hard too. Many people wouldn’t come down here because of the drugs and crime in the East Village.
What are you paying at your current space?
It is reasonable: $2,200. That is very good but still when business isn’t consistent it can be hard to pay. I’m lucky. My landlord would rather have me in than not. This space is part of a co-op, so it’s an interesting setup. I also knew the people for years from when I was on Avenue C. We’re all neighbors. They really left it up to me to pay what I could afford, otherwise I would have had to leave the neighborhood.
A lot of your business comes from the Catholic Church.
With all these Catholic churches closing, it is a big deal for those of us working with stained glass. Lots of businesses are affected by the churches closing down: painters, interior designers, wood workers, contractors. Fortunately, a lot of private clients have kicked in and they give recommendations for more work.
Why do you think so many people are interested in investing in stained glass right now?
I think it has to do with, “Well, I can’t sell my property so I might as well fix it up and invest more money into it so it will sell well when I eventually sell it.”
What’s been your most bizarre project?
This guy came in and wanted a skull with teeth with a snake around a tree and then with some saying on the bottom of it. Each of the teeth had to be wrapped separately so they looked like teeth. I asked him why this, and he said he just found skulls an exciting thing. He put it in his living room. People are strange and ask you to do some bizarre custom work. I had one guy in Staten Island who had a wife who loved ladybugs so I had to figure out ways to incorporate ladybugs into it.
What has been your best year so far?
I would say it was 2010. It was the first year I paid all my bills on time. I was up about 40 percent from my average. I don’t understand why it was a good year for me over others but a couple of other people have told me 2010 was a good year for them in business too. I guess it was the economy.
You have a lot of paper in your office. You don’t digitize everything now?
Computers crash. The trick is knowing where everything is in the pile of paper. I know where the insurance bill is because it’s over there. It’s all about stackables. But no one can move anything around.
How do people hear about you?
The Internet and recommendations. People see me in the neighborhood and see my work around the neighborhood and ask about it. People are curious. People think it’s a dying art, that no one does it anymore, but I still have a pulse. I will stay here as long as I possibly can. I like it here. My studio gets good sunshine and good ventilation.