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New Light at the Hard Rock Cafe
Professional Stained Glass Magazine, v.9, no.9
Artist Team Member: Leader & Visionary: ISAAC TIGRETT, New York City
Artist Team Member: Conductor & Technical Consultant: JEFF SMITH, Fort Davis, TX
Artist Team Member: Illustrator: BEN JAMES, Dallas [We miss you Ben!]
Artist Team Member: Figure Artist: ELLEN SODERQUIST, Dallas
Artist Team Member: Painter: FRANK X TOLBERT 2, Houston
Stained Glass Fabrication: KEBRLE STUDIO, Dallas
Home of the Dallas Hard Rock's Stained Glass since 2010: The MEDDLESOME MOTH, Dallas
CHUCK BERRY, ELVIS PRESLEY & JERRY LEE LEWIS Windows
3.5' w by 19.0' h each
When HRC’s co-founder asked me to create the very first stained glass windows for a Hard Rock Cafe, it took me a while to realize he wanted pre-Victorian-style, canonized rock’n’roll stars – not contemporary ‘Jeff Smith’ stained glass. I struggled with this for a while, and then, in a stroke of creative brilliance, I quit.
Jeff Smith wrote the following article for the September 1989 issue of Professional Stained Glass Magazine. His updates and comments appear in brackets:
NEW LIGHT AT THE HARD ROCK CAFE
EDITORIAL NOTE [PSG MAGAZINE]: This project was discussed in Stained Glass Quarterly (Summer 1988), but we thought it merited a further look. The SGQ article focused on the work of the fabricator of the windows and inexplicably, yet thoroughly, omitted any reference or credit to the artist team that had actually designed the windows. The commission was, in fact, the combined effort of several talented artists working tirelessly with the owner under an almost impossible deadline. Here’s how they did it.
In mid-April 1986, after several meetings with HRC’s co-founder Isaac Tigrett, I was given a contract to execute three windows for the newest Hard Rock Cafe being planned for Dallas [as a renovation of an early 20th century Baptist Church on the corner of McKinney and Routh]. Frustrating as it was [especially at this early point in my career], I soon realized that Tigrett was really looking for a faithful, pre-Victorian-style depiction of canonized rock’n’roll stars [quite a departure from the portfolio I’d been showing him]. Finally, in mid-July, in a stroke of creative brilliance, I quit. . .
Rather than walking away, however, I proposed that I meld my technical understanding of stained glass with the talents of local artists. Almost 14 months later, upon the installation of the third and final window [Jerry Lee Lewis], Tigrett was proud and ecstatic about what he and the extended Artist Team had accomplished [– the very first stained glass ever designed for a Hard Rock Cafe]. What follows is an account of the hectic period preceding that triumphant moment.
To get the project back on track, I recruited the talents of illustrator Ben James, figure artist Ellen Soderquist and painter Frank X. Tolbert 2. Up in Isaac and Maureen [formerly Ms. Ringo Starr] Tigrett’s opulent penthouse atop the Stoneleigh Hotel, surrounded by jaw-dropping rock’n’roll memorabilia [for instance, a smashed Pete Townsend Stratocaster lay kindling-esque in one of the fireplaces], we held brainstorming sessions and design presentations several times a week. At first the idea was to have each of the three artists do a study for the Elvis Window. One of their designs would then the chosen by Tigrett and me. When we all met to review their preliminary efforts, Isaac and I realized that the three concepts so strongly complemented each other that we wisely opted for a three-artist design team. [By this point Tigrett had designated Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis to flank the King. However, due to time constraints, the Elvis Window would be completed first, hopefully in time for the Grand Opening.]
As an illustrator, Ben James was ideally suited to not only flesh out Isaac’s vision, but to integrate everyone’s contributions into a coherent whole. Our official figure artist, Ellen Soderquist, created larger-than-life, full figure portraits of the three rock stars that almost breathe. Tolbert provided, among other intangibles, the much needed freshness that kept the design process from bogging down in rigidity. Two of his preliminary sketches were eventually displayed in the HRC near the three windows.
With the independent design solutions from each artist as a starting point, ideas were massaged, blended and sometimes discarded during a three month gestation and protracted labor that finally led to the birth of the design for the Elvis Window. In all, James did more than 30 1”-scale color renderings before the final Elvis design was approved by Tigrett [and duly toasted by all with Dom Pérignon].
At the ground breaking ritual, Dan Ackroyd had proclaimed the turn-of-the-century Federalist-style Baptist Church the future “Supreme Court of Rock’N’Roll”. The three stained glass windows would overlook an elevated, carved Judges’ Bench/Stage/Dining Area with a dignified King Elvis presiding from his throne. Musical-staff borders with hit song titles, record labels from first record contracts, star-studded cobalt skies and distinctive gold-pink glass details would all reappear in the more energetic Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis soon to follow.
[With the Elvis Window design now approved,] the design team moved on to the other two windows. I then sent the Elvis rendering and specifications to stained glass fabrication studios in Philadelphia, New York and Dallas that were capable of doing the extensive glass painting required for the Elvis and future windows. Based on pricing and proximity, Kebrle Studio of Dallas was chosen. John and Irmgard Kebrle along with assistant Greg Cortinas would face the task of fabricating the Elvis Window by opening night, 39 days away! Kebrle and I flew to glass importer S.A. Bendheim in New York City to select the German, French, English and domestic mouthblown glasses that, along with additions from Kebrle’s personal inventory, would make up the HRC glass palette.
While the crates of glass were in transit to Dallas, Ben James enlarged the 1” scale, color rendering of the Elvis Window using an Artograph Projector. I assisted James with the fine-tuning of the full-scale cartoon which was then provided to Kebrle Studio. [All three windows were fabricated in three sections that were installed one atop of the other using saddle-bars.] [The glass shipment arrived a mere twelve days before the grand opening. By working late into most nights, Kebrle Studio and Soderquist were miraculously able to cut, paint, fire, paint, re-fire, stain, re-fire, etch, lead, solder and caulk the Elvis Window on time.]
[During the lead-up to the start of fabrication], Ellen Soderquist was busily [frantically?] finalizing her slightly larger-than-life Elvis portrait in pencil on Herculene drafting film. The clothed portions of Elvis would soon be interpreted by Soderquist and Kebrle using traditional glass painting techniques. The crucial detail of the face and hands required a different approach. After literally cutting the face and hands from the original Herculene artwork, a 120-line halftone screen was made on clear film [this was pre-digital days folks!]. Peregrine Press, a fine art printing house, then used a photo emulsion technique to transfer the halftone dot patterns onto the silk-screen. The face and hands were screened onto 18” square blanks of 1/8” clear plate glass with black glass paint. Once fired onto the glass blanks, this insured a faithful transfer of Elvis’ portraiture, but lacked the depth and detail of the original. The lost detail was restored with two additional glass-paintings/firings by Soderquist and Kebrle. [Soderquist also added painted shading and definition to the gold lamé suit.] Later, for Soderquist’s portrait of Jerry Lee Lewis, a silver-stain wash and another firing were required to achieve his wild, yellow-blond hair.
[ASIDE: Sadly, it must be reported at this point that John Kebrle displayed a deeply engrained, unabashed male-chauvinism whenever he had dealings with Ellen Soderquist. After several unfortunate incidents at Kebrle Studio, it was only Tigrett’s firm intercession that allowed Ellen to complete her work on the painted glass portraits at Kebrle Studio. As a final insult, once the Elvis Window was installed and after the Grand Opening, unbeknownst to anyone on the Artist Team, John Kebrle removed the top sections of the Elvis Window containing Elvis’ portrait and took them back to his studio. There he disassembled the sections, removed the glass containing Soderquist’s painstakingly rendered portrait and replaced it with his own attempt at portraiture! This was not discovered until Ellen’s next visit to the HRC where she immediately recognized what amounted to theft. As with figures seen in his other church windows, Kebrle’s painted Elvis is more or less passable as “traditional stained glass”, but doesn’t come close to beauty and subtlety captured in Soderquist’s portrait of Elvis.]
After several attempts at etching the “black-flashed-on-clear” mouthblown glass (used in all three windows), the flashed layer of black proved to be too thick to produce necessary detail. Kebrle solved the problem by etching away the entire area where detail was needed with hydrofluoric acid and then painting it back in with black glass paint (i.e. Jerry Lee Lewis’ piano keys).
Every piece of glass in the window is painted. Kebrle first applied the “trace” to delineate detail using black glass paint and trace brushes. The fine detail was used for musical staff borders, lettering, guitar detail, record labels, Elvis’ crown, etc. Then the painted pieces of glass were fired in Kebrle’s hand-built, gas-fired flash kiln with a sliding, 2×3 foot shelf-loader. After the trace firing, each piece of glass was then covered with a matte wash of black paint and all pieces of glass in each section of the window were re-assembled on a horizontal sheet of plate glass. The pieces of glass were then affixed to the horizontal sheet with drops of glazer’s wax. The waxed-up section was then tilted near vertical on a “light-easel”, thus backlighting the glass from behind. Using a variety of highlighting brushes, styli, stick “lights” plus a mahl stick to steady the hand, Kebrle [and sometimes Soderquist] methodically and selectively removed the matte to create shading, highlighting, texture and depth. John also used an airbrush to enhance depth and shadow (i.e., the drapery effect on Elvis’ gold lame suit). [Soderquist also added detail and shading to the clothing to more closely approximate her portrait.] Each piece of glass had to then be fired once again. Some of the glass required silver stain to add yellow to yellow-orange highlights and detail, and, of course an additional firing in the kiln.
As soon as Kebrle finished painting one section, he would begin on the next while his assistant, Greg Cortenes, began leading the freshly painted and fired section. In some areas (i.e., Jerry Lee Lewis’ tattersall suit and the storm clouds over his head) “plating” with a second layer of glass behind the first was necessary to achieve a precise color, tint or shade. After leading, soldering, cementing [caulking] and cleaning each section, Greg shaped and soldered galvanized steel flat-bar to the back of each section as reinforcement.
While it might seem that the process went smoothly by the above description, the reality was an increasingly maddening rush toward opening night [November 6, 1986]. At 7AM on the morning of the Grand Opening, I called Kebrle to confirm the 9AM start time for installing the Elvis Window. Kebrle told me that Cortinas was still soldering the top of the Elvis Window, but more importantly, Kebrle told me he was dissatisfied with the stained glass and he refused to install Elvis regardless. I immediately sped to Kebrle Studio and by 10AM we had agreed to install the window on the condition that Kebrle could (and later did) remove the window for [unspecified] “improvements”. [See the “Aside” above for a clue as to Kebrle’s true motive.]
The installation was orchestrated from a narrow-profile scaffolding system into the existing window framing with an exterior protective glazing of 1/4” clear Lexan. The installation was a straightforward process using butyl foam glazing tape and aluminum T-bars between stained glass sections. As we gathered up tools and equipment, the “Judges’ Bench” stage at Elvis’ feet was bathed in light from the stained glass while a soundcheck fittingly blared “That’s Alright Mama”. [from the SGAA’s Stained Glass Quarterly, Summer 1988: “John Kebrle and Greg Cortinas finished the installation about 6PM, just in time to run home, clean up, and make it back to the HRC to see the window publicly unveiled at 8PM. Searchlights careened wildly through the evening sky and, “every stretch limo in the state” clogged the barricaded street in front of the Hard Rock Cafe as the 2,000 or so invited guests gathered for the opening festivities… Paul Schafer’s Late Night Band was playing… an electrifying Chuck Berry headlined the evening.” . . . Dan Ackroyd christened the Supreme Court of Rock and Roll… and then… a curtain fell at the back of the stage revealing The King presiding brightly from his throne.]
Whew! . . . Now to repeat the process, maybe a little more leisurely, for the Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis Windows! Onward!
–the preceding article by Jeff Smith appeared in the September 1989 issue of Professional Stained Glass Magazine [updates and additions in brackets].
[New Chapter: On July 15, 2009, after a lively 23 year run, Dallas’ Hard Rock Cafe on McKinney at Routh closed its doors. Before the stately Supreme Court of Rock’N’Roll was razed, its stained glass along with memorabilia and furnishings were removed. Shortly thereafter, Dallas restauranteur, Shannon Wynn rescued the three windows at auction. The stained glass had been roughly mishandled, so Wynn tasked Kittrell Riffkind Glass Studio with the extensive restoration – and they did an amazing job. In 2010 Wynn integrated the stained glass into his newest venture, The Meddlesome Moth Gastropub, where the Hard Rock Cafe International’s very first Rock’N’Roll Windows can still be enjoyed. They have been carefully backlit in rich hardwood frames that angle out over the main dining area of the Moth. Elvis, Chuck and Jerry Lee once again are holding court over an upscale gathering spot in Big D. The Moth’s menu features share plates, mussels, meat pies, fish & chips and lots of other unique options in addition to 40 craft beers on tap, live ales, and more than 80 bottled beers. Wines and signature cocktails too.]
[But wait, there’s more. . . A year or so after the installation in Dallas of the first “rock’n’roll stained glass” in any HRC, a friend of Ben James happened to mention seeing an “Elvis Window” at the recently opened HRC in Cancun. Isaac Tigrett had talked about keeping the team together and doing more rock star windows at future HRCs, so you can imagine Ben’s surprise. Ben’s friend showed him a photo of herself with a girlfriend in front of a duplicate of our Elvis Window in Cancun. Ben’s jaw dropped! Here was an unauthorized copy of the Elvis Window we had all worked so hard on. Ben did a little poking around and discovered that John Kebrle had replicated the design without permission from the Artist Team that designed it and owned its copyright. (Remember, Kebrle didn’t become involved until after the design process was finished.) As a professional illustrator, Ben had routinely copyrighted our designs in the transmittals that accompanied their handoff to Kebrle Studio.
Amazingly, the one-time president of the Stained Glass Association of America, and, at that time chair of the SGAA’s Ethics Committee [!?], John Kebrle had quietly made a knockoff of our design in violation of Ben’s/our copyright. None of us had been contacted. The quality of the doppelgänger suffered without Soderquist’s work on the portraiture. Later more and more “Elvis sightings” were reported. Chuck and Jerry Lee too. The Elvis Window in Orlando, for example, portrays a sinister-looking Elvis look-alike in a gold-lamé suit that appears to have gotten the brown acid. Kebrle’s ripoffs turned up in HRCs in Orlando, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Beijing, Acapulco, several locations in Japan and . . . who knows?
A lawsuit brought by James, Soderquist and Tolbert was finally resolved with the HRC agreeing to cease and desist further misappropriation of our designs without our express permission. Further the HRC agreed to install brass plaques beneath every forged window acknowledging the extended design team. Not sure if anybody ever verified the plaques being added. There also may have been a monetary payment as well. As they were being bamboozled by Kebrle, the HRC was apparently unaware of the copyright infringements.]
PHOTOS: Jeff Smith/Architectural Stained Glass, Inc. ©1986, 1987, 2018. Because he was also Unofficial Picture-Taker, readers have been spared Smith’s appearance in the accompanying slide show.
Materials: European mouthblown glass, lead, solder w/ painting & etching.