Cliff Kennedy’s pet peeve: Homeowners who want him to rip out an old beveled glass door, or entryway, and start over.         

“It’s like having a five-carat diamond with a chip. You get it reworked. You don’t by a new one,” says the veteran stained glass artisan. “People are crazy to change their entryways. Use what you got because it’s more valuable in the long run.”

Kennedy has spent most of his life marveling at the art glass craftsmanship found in the old houses of Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati.

In June, he celebrates 30 years in business as owner of Kaleidoscope in Covington’s MainStrasse, a studio known for its restoration, custom installations and stained glass classes.

GO-TO-GUY

Mostly through word-of-mouth, Kennedy has become the go-to guy for stained glass restoration and repair in these parts. His studio also has a reputation for original custom installations, thanks to Kennedy’s collaboration with Northern Kentucky artist Jane Wendling Pompilio. The two have put out a dozen how-to and pattern books on colored glass art.

Kennedy feels lucky that he has one of the richest art glass canvases in the country in which to work his restorative magic.

“We are saturated with stained glass. New York, Chicago and Cincinnati are the three largest stained glass cities. The old stained glass guys tell me we were probably number one at the turn of the century — it’s because of the German influence.”

Kennedy, a Newport native, was in the marines for six years before working as a jeweler and in the auto industry. He realized his hobby could be a career after learning about art glass from his uncle, Ray Line, then spent a summer three decades ago with a retired German craftsman who had 50 years experience restoring stained glass.

“He told me, ‘Cliff, you want to learn restoration, especially in this area.’ You can teach anyone to make stained glass, but there are a lot of tricks to repairing it.”

Kennedy is most passionate about educating people on the stained glass treasures in their homes.

TREASURES

“Just about every house with it needs something done to it,” says Kennedy. “The glass is not getting any newer and it’s not getting any cheaper. It is going up in value every year. These are treasures. Some of the windows are going to be worth more than the house.”

Indeed, stained glass theft is not uncommon in the area, especially from abandoned homes or rehab projects. Kennedy has performed restorations so valuable he won’t reveal the identity of the owners or the location of the homes.

Kennedy recently worked on the restoration and installation of a stained glass window of Abe Lincoln bought at auction by a Northern Kentucky man. Kennedy says it is one of three surviving stained glass windows of Lincoln completed while he was alive.

Kennedy may be involved with restoring another gem rescued from a demolished Ohio church to be installed in another church. The nine-by-15 foot stained glass window has been appraised at $1.5 million. Kennedy says if he takes on that job, “We will keep it at a private location under armed guard.”

Fortunately, the colored glass industry has a memory.

“It’s really wonderful the way the stain glass industry has continued to make glass the same way it did centuries ago, so that we can restore the works to original condition,” says Pompilio.

Kennedy points to a beautiful window restoration from a Wyoming, Ohio, home in his shop, challenging the writer to find the seven pieces of glass he replaced. He recognized the glass as that made by an Indiana company and sent them samples. “They sent me the 2011 version of the 1890’s version. You probably can’t get it perfect, but when the light passes through this window you can’t tell where the new pieces are.”

For 20 years Kaleidoscope has offered classes, taught by Pompilio, and Kennedy is as proud of his student creations as his own custom work.

On a tour of his shop Kennedy points out a glass rendering of the human brain done by a neurosurgeon, a family coat of arms, a window of the Cincinnati skyline and a lampshade with imbedded seashells. And there is a magnificent mosaic tabletop made out of scrap glass a student worked on for a year. Kennedy says it is worth the student’s asking price of $5,000.

IT'S IN THE REFLECTION

Kennedy also introduces his students to a process he developed using crushed recycled glass and encasing the chips with a dual polymer process. He calls it “diamond glass art” because the finished product reflects light like cut gemstones.

“I came to the conclusion that thousands of people have a shoebox full of scrap glass,” he says. “This is a way to crush it up, mix it up and it makes a beautiful window.”

Ultimately, Kennedy agrees that working with colored glass is a versatile art form. One can make simple sun catchers or high art.

Pompilio does it all, from spectacular windows with Kentucky landscapes and wildflower scenes, to playful garden mosaics and commemorative pieces for weddings, birthdays and retirements.

But Kennedy gets his greatest satisfaction when he can restore a priceless piece in an old home.

“I love the old art, the old stained glass. I love to keep everything the way it started 100 years ago. Older houses should have what they came with.”