Art of glass

Needham Studios celebrates 45 years of creating stained glass

Mick Needham first opened his stained-glass shop in Chico 45 years ago. It was an offering of sorts, his son Aaron told me, part of an effort to build an artists community downtown. While that vision may not have quite come to fruition, clearly Needham was able to turn the opportunity into a career. He moved Needham Studios to 237 Broadway a year later, and has been there ever since.

One of the coolest things about art is that, while it can be beautiful or thought-provoking to everyone, there’s often a story behind it that only the artist—and perhaps the buyer of the art—knows. That can be said for the Needhams, whose main source of business is custom designs.

A perfect example, and the one that brought me into the studio, is the large piece displayed at Gold Country Casino. My boyfriend and I spent New Year’s Eve there and when the time came to fill our bellies with food instead of booze, we headed over to The Cafe, outside of which sits an impressive stained-glass mural. “It’s a fantasy landscape,” Mick explained. “It’s the tribe’s sacred grounds in one landscape.” The piece includes Bald Rock, the Feather River, Feather Falls and native plants.

The Needhams also created the windows at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Most people know the ones that hang above the bar in the taproom (see if you can find Bigfoot walking into the forest), but Aaron said he always points people to the business center—whose entrance is between the restaurant and Big Room—because of the particularly awesome domed skylight inside that features hops vines, dragonflies and spiders made of copper wire.

Aaron joined his dad in the business about 20 years ago, and his younger brother Evan also works there. The recent recession did a number on the stained-glass industry, Mick explained, knocking out close to 70 percent of the studios and many of the suppliers as well. The Needhams survived by working other jobs and also by landing one serious gig—they won a national search contest to create a 15-foot-wide, multipanel window for Sutter Roseville Medical Center’s chapel. That piece is a nature scene depicting the grounds behind the medical center.

The actual crafting of the windows includes hand-cutting each piece, wrapping the edges in copper wire and soldering it all together. Aside from using some new technology, it’s the same process artists have used for thousands of years, Aaron said.

Over the years, Mick has taught his craft at Butte College and even was invited to give a lecture at the National Arts Club in Manhattan, a prestigious venue where one of his Tiffany-style lamps resides. (A bit of trivia: That lamp can be seen in the movies Moon Over Manhattan and Quiz Show.) Now people interested in learning how to create their own stained glass can take classes from Aaron through the Chico Art Center. The next round is set to begin this month.