The Artist as Entrepreneur
Dale Preston
Age: 51
Profession/Type of Art: art glass (stained glass)
Education: Degree in Social Work, University of Missouri-Columbia

Dale Preston grew up in the St. Louis Area north of the city. The family property where he lived as a boy is just east of the current campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis. His mother had been born and reared on that same land. A whole extended family grew up there.

Both Preston and his wife are graduates of the University of Missouri in Columbia. They were married during their junior year. She studied music and became a teacher while he pursued social work. After graduation, they returned to the St. Louis area and lived in the Soulard neighborhood.

Preston has worked in the social work field and has been self-employed as a carpenter and a painter. His initial exposure to working with art glass was when his parents took a class at a local community college. They taught him what they knew, and it became a hobby. Eventually, Preston set up a workshop and began repairing and creating stained glass as his business. In the spring of 1999, he moved to a store where he was also able to offer classes and to sell supplies.

This year, Preston and his brother have invested in a building at 2651 Chouteau. It is a much larger space than the current store on Virginia, and the plan is to move Preston Art Glass Studio to the new location in early fall.

Preston and his wife reside in South St. Louis with seven of their eight children, six boys and two girls, living at home.

The following interview with Dale Preston was conducted by Cheryl Blake, UM-St. Louis, September 2004.

Q. How long have you been working in stained glass?

A. Twenty-five years--starting out as a hobby. My mom and dad took a class in stained glass at a community college. I then learned from them. For the first fifteen years, ten were only a hobby. Then for five years I did side jobs and some repairs to bring in extra money for my family. It was January of 1995 that I started my own business, Preston Art Glass Studio. My wife and I had bought a house and a two family flat next door to it. The basement of the flat was empty and I used the space as my workshop. So at that time I didn't really have a shop. It was five years later that I moved to the shop on Virginia.

Q. How did you make a hobby into a business?

A. When I graduated from University of Missouri, my wife and I moved to the Soulard area. There was a Christian community we were attracted to, and we liked, the house rehabbing in that area. I worked for Family Services, and my wife taught. After a year or so, I started my own painting company. I also had a carpentry business with a couple of friends. When I began Preston Art Glass Studio, I had been a caretaker at Sts. Peter and Paul Church for about nine years. The pastor said he didn't want to hire someone to replace me and then find out I still needed the job, so he had me work twenty hours a week for the first six months of 1995. He figured I would know in six months if the business was going to take off. He also put a notice in the church bulletin about what I was starting.

Q. Did you advertise when you started out?

A. Maybe a couple of church bulletins, but I depended mostly on word of mouth. My first job was a repair for a lady who lived in University City. She heard from her sister about my work. She had some bookcase doors that needed art glass repair. Then the business just grew by word of mouth. When I first started out, I didn't even know all of the terms. I would describe the kind of glass I might need for a repair, like swirls or some other pattern. Since I never worked for someone else at stained glass, I learned as I went.

We haven't had to advertise the classes we offer. It seems people are calling all the time to inquire about learning. That's how we fill the classes.

Q. What about business details, like money? Do you enjoy it?

A. I already had business experience. I had run my painting business and had the carpentry business, as well. So I knew about things like budgets. We've only had two slow periods since the business began, and there really wasn't any way to predict them. Otherwise, the hardest part about the business has been the government stuff, dealing with forms and taxes, and getting everything in on time. I like everything about the actual process of working with art glass. I enjoy designing new creations and doing repairs, cutting the glass, even cementing. It's always new.

Q. And now you are moving to a new location?

A. Yes. My brother and I bought the building. It was actually two buildings, both from the 1880s, with many additions in the back. It used to house a feed and seed company. Its most recent use was as a photographer's studio. It's a bigger space, and we hope to be in it by the end of October. I am selling both of the buildings on Virginia. We will be able to have classes in the main area of the new shop. There's a kitchen, and we're installing an accessible bathroom. Right now, I'm tired from working on getting the building ready for the move and trying to run the business at the same time, but I'm excited about the new place.

copyright 2004, Center for Entrepreneurship and Economic Education, University of Missouri-St. Louis