It was back in 1976 when John Emery (the creative and promotional power) and Jerry Preston (the senior partner and all-important technician) of Preston Studios of Melbourne began selling their unique Tiffany-inspired stained-glass art at merchandise marts in Atlanta, Miami, Dallas, and New York.
The designs were masterfully translated onto panes of windows and lamps in the cultured themes of the Renaissance era, of colorful and tropical wildlife, of birds and turtles and sea life and flowers such as Iris, Morning Glory and Calla Lily. The collection spans homes, museums and art galleries around the globe. “Back then, there was no one creating stained-glass art” said John.
“We knew then we had the talent and confidence to make our business work, but realized we had to come up with other ways than just selling at merchandise marts to pay the bills.”
“Our designs have always been one-of-a-kind, and our goal was then to establish a new voice within the tradition. Our business soon began to grow, and thankfully, as we stuck to our roots with our designs; the Space Coast began to experience rapid growth.”
By the late 80’s, their connections into the world of private commissioned works took flight, and the business began to flourish.
Their first big break happened almost a decade earlier, when they were commissioned to build five 3×4” windows in 1982 for a project with a 200-acre development just north of Sebastian Inlet in Melbourne Beach called Aquarina.
After images of those windows appeared in international print media, including a major spread in Eastern Airline’s Sky Magazine, the works were selected for the first-ever museum exhibition for the Brevard Art Museum.
“The rest, as they say is history,” he said.
For the past 44 years, Preston Studios has become a household name in the stained-glass art industry both here and abroad. The works are featured locally in upscale subdivisions like Lansing Island, The Cloisters, Wyndam at Duran and Heritage Isle, Isle Worth and Bella Collina in Orlando, as well as other notably storied locales such as the Hearst Castle in California, Palace Ledreborg in Denmark and Castle Foulis in Scotland.
Form and Function
Preston Studios is not known for a particular design approach or sentiment. Instead, they are highly sought after for their ability to create original new designs that reflect period and style.
“For residential entrances, bilateral symmetry has been the mantra,” John said, noting that the creations reflect a sort of “graphic simplicity.”
“We strive to exploit the concept of Chiaroscuro—a word borrowed from Italian meaning ‘light and shade’—an effect that uses contrasts of light to achieve a sense of volume,” he explained. For art glass, this necessitates the use of very dark shades of glass combined with the light entering the space to create to create the perception of depth.
Attention to Detail
One of their most unique creations was a stained-glass violin designed for a fund-raiser sponsored by the Brevard Symphony Orchestra in 2003. The flower motif piece was one of about a dozen entries from local artisans who were challenged to create the musical instrument in various mediums. The pieces were later auctioned off in a benefit at the King Center for the Performing Arts.
Their 40th anniversary exhibition in 2016, held in Eau Gallie Art District’s Foosaner Art Museum, featured many of the studio’s unique, one-of-a-kind lamps.
One of the most recent works, an exquisite lamp entitled “The Kapok Tree,” was inspired by John’s travels to India in the 80’s. The base, which includes a detailed sculptured presentation of three elephants, retails for $3,800. Other lamp prices range from $1,000 to as high as $30,000, depending on the level of intricacy and design.
One local collector, Elizabeth Frost-Knappmans, has a variety of Preston Studios’ collectibles on display in her Indialantic home. After commissioning windows from the studio for her dining area, she later added stained-glass art depicting bamboo sprouts to her front door, and an original abstract that hangs in her guest bath.
“My house makes me so happy,” said the retired author. “Their work is so exceptional. If I had more money,” she laughed, “I would go crazy adding stained-glass work in every room.”
Teamwork for Seamless Art
Although Preston and Emery come from different backgrounds, their ability to work together as a team for the past 44 years is as amazing as the works they lovingly concept and create. They met by chance at a Red Cross fundraiser in Palm Beach in 1976. Both were self-taught in stained-glass arts, though initially only hobbyists. Preston holds a bachelor of arts in business administration and Emery, a bachelor of arts degree in history.
“The combinations of our education and passions have worked well, so we are grateful,” said John.
“Art has to do with longevity, and you have to have purpose.”
Being an artist always has its ups and downs, and more so these days with the pandemic.
However, “every minute I can create something of beauty that is genuinely appreciated—there is no higher reward in life.”
Preston Studios is located at 552 Magnolia Avenue in Melbourne. For more information, visit online at prestonstudios.com or call 321-259-0044. •