Jack Archibald ’72: Stained-Glass Wizard

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Archibald often gets commissions for mammoth-sized works. This glass mural, titled Circumnavigating the Century, graces the lobby of the Clover Park Aviation Trade Center in Puyallup, Washington. Courtesy of the artist.

For Jack Archibald ’72, it all started with a simple thought on a chilly evening in a shack: “It might be nice to have some windows in here.”

Since the late 1970s, the artist has created more than sixty stained-glass installations, which are exhibited in public buildings nationwide. One of his more prominent projects was a life-sized kaleidoscope (since dismantled) that allowed pedestrians to peer through lit glass into a small storefront covered with mirrors. His style incorporates science-fiction mythology and blends curvy, anthropomorphic figures balanced with rigid, geometric shapes.

But despite his success, Archibald’s original career plan wasn’t art. In fact, he says he never really had a career plan. An English major at UW–Madison, he tried to become a teacher after graduation but instead ended up in a variety of odd jobs around Wisconsin. “I came through [UW–Madison] during the ’60s, and it was a wild time,” he says. “It had a total influence on me. It takes a certain amount of insanity — or courage — to launch off into an art career without knowing what you’re doing. I was more afraid of having some job that would beat me down.”

After farming for a while in Mosinee, Wisconsin, Archibald decided he’d been through enough hard winters. In 1976, he moved to rural Camano Island in Washington’s Puget Sound, where he found seven acres and a weathered shack to call home. One night, he took a class at the local high school to learn how to make stained-glass windows that could replace the shack’s plastic sheeting. He was hooked.

At the time, Archibald was making ends meet with a couple of jobs, including a graveyard shift as an orderly. He started taking his glass to the hospital and soon began selling windows. He eventually landed a grant from Washington’s public arts commission, which in turn led to more contracts. He’s also become an architect of sorts because he often has to design and build structures to support his larger exhibits.

In addition to his own work, Archibald has teamed up with other local artists on initiatives to turn Camano into Washington’s “art island.” He regularly donates glassworks to libraries, schools, and other projects because he says he’d rather be surrounded by art than the “meat and potatoes” appearance of most public buildings. “When you think of the great cultures, you think of their architecture, their art,” he explains. “We’re so cheap now, we don’t want to spend money on that. But we could make a different decision on how we invest our money.”

As for the shack? After living in it for several years with his wife, Karen, Archibald agreed to build them a house — but the shack still serves as his studio.

Published in the Summer 2015 issue

Tags: Alumni, Arts, glass

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