In Tony Nichols’ own words, he’s never known for having the right tool for the right job.
He eschews glass-cutters for simple pliers and uses gadgets from around the kitchen to create large stained glass mosaics, which he sells, with the help of his wife, Janet, under the label Kickin’ Glass Kansas.
His work has been featured locally at the Strecker-Nelson Gallery, but his client list goes much further. A mosaic of a sunflower hangs in Gen. David Petraeus’ home, and Nichols has plans to create small glass mosaics for the Flint Hills Discovery Center.
Though not born and bred in Kansas, the Nicholses have loved their time in the state, and Tony said he would like to be identified as a Kansas artist. His pieces incorporate themes from the area, including sunflowers and the Flint Hills.
Tony has been working with glass for close to a decade. It began, he said, after he started bringing home windows he found in back road shops while living in South Carolina to spruce up their “dreadful” rental home. Janet said he first used dragon tears, or small glass beads, before he learned from a friend how to make a resin for stained glass mosaics.
“It’s been very organic,” Tony said.
As an army family, the Nichols’ have moved around the United States for Tony’s career, but have called Manhattan home for six years.
Last week, Tony retired as a lieutenant colonel; he was an armor officer. He has been traveling back and forth from Fort Leavenworth for the last three years, while Janet and their two daughters, Gillian and Ellerie, stayed in their Manhattan home-an easy-enough-to-distinguish house with its several stained glass pieces that can be seen on the front porch and in various windows.
The first piece that Tony and Janet created together five years ago hangs outside.
Presently, Tony is in the process of transferring his studio from Fort Leavenworth to his new home studio-a room above their detached garage that was practically built for his purposes. Tony said the last owner of the home used the room to build additions for the main house, which means there’s a giant wood table to work on, shelves for the stained glass and large windows that bring in lots of light.
His most recent piece is a painted green-framed window with mosaic sunflowers and several purple cone flowers-it’s also his favorite so far.
The stained glass pieces, which collect in various boxes in the Nichols’ home, come from turn-of-the-century stained glass restorationists in Leavenworth, and Tony is always on the lookout for interesting windows. He already has several, some he has been holding for years, with projects in mind.
Tony has a tight schedule in producing the pieces-roughly four a month, or one a week. Though the Nicholses haven’t had trouble selling them-army wives are particular fans, commissioning work for their soon-to-be deploying spouses-Tony said the business has exploded in the last four months.
He sells through shows and word-of-mouth, but also through Etsy and Facebook, where he will post a photo of a piece and sell it to the first person who says they want it.
Though Janet is quick to give full credit to Tony for the pieces, Tony said he often looks to her for advice on what colors to use and which direction to go.
The couple met in Atlanta in 1994 after they were introduced by his parents. Tony, who is from Georgia, was visiting his parents when he saw Janet at the next-door neighbor’s house and wanted an introduction. Janet, who was born in Miami, was living with her older cousin at the time, while she worked in Atlanta.
They dated for two years before Tony had orders to go to South Korea and Janet said yes when Tony asked her to join him there, where they eloped. “Any woman that will drop what she’s doing and come to Korea is a keeper,” Tony said.
Janet said she agreed after everything “aligned right,” and there she worked for the USO, one of the best jobs she said she’s ever had. The job introduced her to working for not-for-profits, and Janet worked for the March of Dimes when the couple returned to the states. She started a different track-raising kids-when they had their first daughter 13 years ago.
Now Janet is active in the PTO at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School and Girls Scouts, along with helping Tony develop Kickin’ Glass Kansas. Their daughters have also shown an interest in the family business.
For Tony, the work is particularly important because it helped him deal with post-traumatic stress after he came back from his deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. “You try to be human and process it,” he said, “but your head’s spinning thinking about it.”
Tony didn’t favor meeting with a counselor because he didn’t want to talk about it, but he found that he could put all of his concentration on creating art out of glass pieces and just stop thinking for awhile.
Part of it was the creative process, while part was the repetitive motion.
“Everybody needs to find their thing,” Tony said.
His work is available by searching Kickin’ Glass Kansas on Etsy and Facebook.