By Sherry Lucas
In the Image of the Creator
The Stained Glass Artistry of Andy Young
Talk to Andrew Cary Young about an upcoming lifetime achievement honor, and one thing comes through as clear and bright as the light in one of his church windows: He’s not done yet.
The Pearl River Glass Studio founder, lead designer, and artist continues building on more than four decades in business and still approaches each project with the question, “What is going to be the innovation on this job?”
Young, 65, is one of two winners of the 2018 Noel Polk Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters at an awards banquet in Jackson June 2. The honor is shared with Robert Ivy, a Columbus native, and executive vice president and CEO of the American Institute of Architects. Additional winners in the 2018 class are: the Mississippi Encyclopedia (special achievement); Jack Spencer (photography); Charles Buckley (visual arts), Molly McCully Brown (poetry); Shannon McNally (contemporary music); James S. Sclater (classical music); John T. Edge (nonfiction); and Michael Knight (fiction).
“It’s a great honor,” Young says, noting the award’s prestige. Past winners include Eudora Welty, Morgan Freeman, and Myrna Colley-Lee, Shelby Foote and more—“all the really big hitters in the Mississippi pantheon.”
“I’m really grateful to be there,” he says, mentioning, too, the help and support from his team and more in the studio’s growth.
On the achievement end, Young says still being in business after 43 years is his biggest achievement, plus creating a work environment that has nurtured and employed many fellow artists.
“I get the opportunity to work with so many talented people because that’s really the success of the company. Granted, I’ve been the force behind making it happen, but I’ve had so many great people over the years—Rob Cooper, Tom Crouch. Bebe Wolfe even worked in the studio. We have a joke that just about everybody’s worked at Pearl River at one point in their careers,” Young says.
On the arts achievement front, creating stained glass windows that make an impact on people’s worship experience in church ranks at the top. “That really means a lot to me, and I’ve taken that very seriously over the years,” he says. The pursuit includes more than a decade of annual workshops studying icon writing—the only art tradition existing continuously since the lifetime of Jesus.
“The idea of iconography is that the designs we copy or write are copies of copies of copies that go all the way back to the time of Jesus,” Young says. According to lore, Saint Luke, a physician with access to minerals to treat patients and also make pigments, created portraits of Jesus and Mary that he used in his preaching.
“In terms of what I was going to do for the Christian church as a designer—I wanted to find something that was authentic.”
Making art is the driving force at Pearl River Glass Studio—a mission that drives Young’s and studio artists’ innovations in fused glass and acid etching to maximize the medium’s expressive potential. Continuing innovation pushes the art form forward and latches onto new opportunities. Also, a small business is nimble and flexible enough to respond to change and new ideas.
“I’m always trying to come up with what’s going to be different, what’s going to be new, what’s going to be a twist on the same thing,” Young says. “The innovation was about expanding our vocabulary, expanding our ability to do things.”
About 75 percent of the Pearl River Glass Studio’s work is related to church window work—creation, restoration, and maintenance. The rest includes artworks and architectural commissions, such as the stained-glass window centerpiece for the church gallery at the new Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience (The MAX) in Meridian.
Young, a member at St. Columb’s Episcopal Church in Ridgeland, completed the Education for Ministry program and is also a lay minister in the Episcopal Church.
He’s noticed over the years that successful people have some religious tradition they follow. “You can define it however you want. It can be Christian, Buddhist—but it’s believing in a system that’s greater than you are.”
Noting the relevance, and resonance, of the Old Testament stories, he sees the continuous thread of the human condition and community need. “It’s just full of great stories, and when you read it, it’s like, that could have happened here yesterday.” Human behavior hasn’t changed. “People are people, and the church is a way to set a certain amount of order to people and society.
“Being a member of a church family is very rewarding. For the people that are not religious, they’re just missing out.”
“It is a matter of faith. It’s a matter of your Christian beliefs. But also, when people are gathered together to worship together, there’s a lot of reward and support from that system. So, I’ve gotten a lot out of that, as a human being.”
Sherry Lucas is a freelance feature writer, copywriter and copy editor with 30-plus years of reporting and writing experience and a passion for sharing Mississippi’s cultural wealth. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.