Live to Inspire: Matt Grones ‘89
July 31, 2012
From Hospital to Art Studio: An alumnus finds his calling
After over 18 years of working in medical centers and ancillary services, TLU alum Matt Grones decided to trade in the hospital for an art studio. When Grones left the South Austin Surgical Center in 2010 to pursue the art of stained glass making, he admits there was some skepticism. However, the desire to meet more than just financial needs led him to taking a chance most people would not. He now encourages those thinking about transitioning into a new vocation to be courageous when chasing a dream. “When you do that and you know where you’re supposed to be, it’s wonderful,” he says. “To be able to know you’re in the right place doing the right thing adds years to your life and life to your years.”
When Matt Grones left his job as the CEO of the South Austin Surgical Center to pursue the art of stained glass making, he was skeptical. However, after an auspicious meeting with Jack Whitworth, owner of Whitworth Stained Glass, and the desire to meet more than just financial needs, Grones took a chance most people would not.
Grones graduated from Texas Lutheran University in 1989 and went on to pursue a master’s in healthcare administration. After more than 18 years of working in hospitals and ancillary services, Grones decided to trade in the hospital for an art studio. What started as an interest in the business of stained glass has blossomed into a friendship and professional relationship that have helped Grones find his true calling.
“Although healthcare administration was financially fulfilling, it was not meeting many of my family, emotional and social needs,” Grones said. “Initially there was some skepticism about my desire to leave a career that not only provided for my family, but offered advancement opportunities; but my family has been supportive, allowing me to take this unique fork in the road. Having the support from your family is paramount to achieving success with any new venture.”
His days are now spent working alongside Whitworth, former president of The Stained Glass Association of America, learning the intricate craft of stained glass making. Most recently, the two have begun restoring several church windows that were originally built in 1905. Comprised of over 300 individual pieces of glass in 20 sections, one window takes around 60 hours to complete. Each section of glass is cut and soldered together one at a time.
The process is complex and patience is essential. When you have someone as skillful as Whitworth as your mentor, Grones says, you feel so fortunate to learn such leadership and wisdom. Whitworth said Grones brings something special to their work.
“It’s been very rewarding to teach Matt,” he said. “After 40 years in this business and over 200 classes, Matt brings almost an introspective feel to things. I think how he was brought up and his strong work ethic has made him successful. The biggest part is gaining confidence when working with the glass and respecting it. Matt is certainly learning both of those ideas.”
With projects ranging from restaurants and churches to special requests from individual clients, Whitworth’s expanding studio shows the demand for this timeless trade. Whitworth’s wife Cindy, a self-taught artist, is the chief designer. Her ornate sketches are the foundation for transferring images to the glass. She says while many people are interested in stained glass, most do not take it further than a hobby.
“Matt has the patience,” she said. “It’s always great to teach somebody the art and get them excited about it. There are certainly a lot of hobbyists, but when they see how time consuming it really is, they just become collectors. It’s obvious Matt really enjoys it and it’s more than a hobby.”
Much like Grones, Jack Whitworth was in an entirely different field when he decided to make his hobby of stained glass into a new career. With a bachelor’s degree in business and a master’s in systems management, Whitworth says he never imagined 40 years ago that he’d be a full-time stained glass maker.
“It was a hobby that got out of control,” he jokes. “But I’ve always felt that stained glass speaks to people and the windows tell stories. The beginnings of stained glass were actually to help those who couldn’t read understand the stories of the Bible. The windows can be powerful and when you see a client moved to tears because of something you’ve created, that’s truly rewarding.”
Preserving the art of stained glass is also at the forefront of their work. Whitworth and Grones hope to launch Texas Stained Glass, a separate venture focusing on pieces featuring the state flag and other Lone Star-themed items.
Grones says stained glass can be rich in both beauty and meaning, and that he and Whitworth will continue to work with clients to create their story while simultaneously blending their own styles. He hopes to pass on everything Whitworth has taught him to others in the future.
He encourages others who are thinking about making a transition into a new vocation to be courageous and to not be afraid of chasing a dream. Grones says sometimes, you need to take that one risk and trust your gut feeling.
“When you do that and you know where you’re supposed to be, it’s wonderful,” Grones said. “To be able to know you’re in the right place doing the right thing adds years to your life and life to your years.”
Whitworth Stained Glass is located at 104 Melody Lane in New Braunfels, Texas. For more inquiries, please call 830-214-3370.
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