Made Right Here: SGO Designer Glass

SGO Designer Glass’ owner/operator Dave Pye and designer Jillian Gardiner take a modern approach to traditional stained glass works, using progressive techniques to bring colour and creativity to homes, businesses and places of worship in Newfoundland.

“I’ve always been a creative sort,” Pye began. “Unlike Jillian, I didn’t go to school and get a Fine Arts degree, but I’ve always been inclined – musically, artistically.”

This creative streak, combined with a life-long love of stained glass, and time spent in Paris and London visiting various churches and admiring their beautiful windows, would dramatically reshape Pye’s life.

“I had been in a big multi-national pharmaceutical company type environment for 14 years, and I felt like I was spinning my wheels. Call it a midlife crisis if you want, but I said, ‘I can’t do this for the rest of my life.’ I just wasn’t happy when I was getting up in the morning.”

Though the job paid well, money couldn’t buy happiness for Pye, who opted to take a leap and leave his job after a decade and a half, later founding the local branch of SGO Designer Glass.

A different approach

Pye came across SGO Designer Glass online. The California-based company was founded in 1974, and has over 150 locations in North America, as well as 35 countries around the world.

After expressing interest, and meeting with SGO Designer Glass representatives, Pye took on a franchising opportunity, operating his privately owned and operated studio and workshop in St. John’s in 2003.

“At 40 years old, I wasn’t going to learn the traditional craft of making stained glass, and certainly there were established stained glass artists already in St. John’s who were struggling to make a go of it. I knew I had to take a different approach to that art form.”

“Traditional stained glass is painted, then fired to set the colour. Then that glass is cut to achieve the design. The pieces are joined with lead came, whereas SGO, we work on one piece of glass.

“We colour our glass with hand-painted proprietary films from the UK and we cut those according to design, overlay those on the glass, then apply lead to both sides of the design,” Pye explained.

“Working with one piece of glass, we’re also able to use safety glass, tempered glass. We can do more applications than you would be able to do with traditional stained glass,” Gardiner added.

This updated approach ensures safety and durability, without compromising artistic freedom, and comes in at a much lower cost. Pye’s focus is on interior design, working with builders, contractors and window dealers to “Even though it’s a very artistic medium, I take a business sensibility to it,” Pye said.

Inspired SGO team

He was quick to note that he knew he couldn’t run this business alone, which led to the addition of Jillian Gardiner to the team. Gardiner, a Prince Edward Islander who received her Bachelor of Fine Arts (Visual) from Corner Brook’s Grenfell Memorial University campus, joined SGO Designer Glass in 2007.

Working with glass wasn’t even on her radar when she was in school. Gardiner spent a lot of time in printmaking and draws parallels between that artform and her work at SGO.

She “lucked in to seeing the (job) ad” Pye had posted, and was working with the company about a month after moving to the east coast.

Pye was full of praise for Gardiner, her creativity and her work ethic. Gesturing around the workshop, pointing out finished pieces, Pye noted, “As you can tell, she’s really good.”

The pair make quite the team, having collaborated with local places of religious worship to create breathtaking stained glass windows for numerous churches of all denominations around the island, including the Church of the Good Shepherd in Mount Pearl, Church of St. Cyprian and St. Mary in Bell Island, Bethany United Church in Carbonear,  Church of St. Anne in Conne River, the Anglican Parish in Fogo, Fraser United Church in Gander, St. Nicholas in Leading Tickles, Our Lady of Peace in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Sacred Heart Church in Hearts Desire,  the Anglican Parish of Deer Lake, Riverside United Church in Norris Arm, St. James United Church in St. John’s, and many, many more.

“Religious (works) are becoming more and more important to me,” Pye said, noting the hardships many churches face, as dwindling congregation numbers leads to less money in the collection plate. “It often starts with one window, or one family wanting to do something [to honour a loved one],” Gardiner said.

Once the parishioners see this moving tribute within a new piece of glass, they often want to do the same, customizing the piece to fit their wants and needs.

“We did one that was Jesus as a fisherman because the person’s father was a fisherman,” Gardiner said.

“Starting off with the story of the person that this panel is representing, the memory of them, people get really detailed,” she said, noting that she is able to incorporate details like a favourite colour or flower, or a special Biblical scene. Gardiner also researches symbolism to ensure she is crafting the right message with her designs, checking in with the customer multiple times throughout the process.

‘Nothing but positive’

Pye noted that the designs all work within a chosen theme, to ensure a cohesive look.

“We’ll work with the minister, vestry committee members, and the customer to create the perfect design or designs,” he said, receiving “nothing but positive” feedback from all parties involved.

Gardiner and Pye hope they’ll get the same kind of reception for their current endeavour – a two-year-long project to create a series of 14 windows for a church in Norris Arm, among others.

“I’m the lucky one who gets to see the customer reaction because I do the installs,” Pye explained. “I see tears a lot, because … it has special meaning to them. It’s cool to see that raw, visceral, emotional response to what we do for a living. It’s very rewarding.”

Check out SGO Designer Glass’ work at or email [email protected] for more information.

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