WORDS / JULIA TRUPP
PHOTO / KAT WILSON
When the glistening sun comes in through the windows that portray George Dombek’s paintings, the experience is a spiritual one. Warmth and color fill the space, inhabiting the souls of the people inside.
The First Christian Church in downtown Bentonville took their stained glass windows with them when they relocated. After Bentonville-based hospitality company Ropeswing Group purchased the building in 2015, they decided that the 115-year-old building would be transformed into a restaurant, but renovations were essential. Ropeswing reached out to Dombek, one of Arkansas’ most acclaimed artists, to design 11 new windows for the church-turned-restaurant Preacher’s Son.
“The original church had beautiful stained glass windows. We wanted to bring that experience back into the space while being sensitive to the fact that this was no longer a church. We all felt that George’s work would translate into glass beautifully,” said Rob Apple, Ropeswing’s managing director.
Dombek immediately got in touch with David Soos, a Little Rock firm, that designs and produces stained glass. Together they worked to figure out how to transfer his paintings onto glass, but the mediums were entirely different.
“I came to a conclusion that it couldn’t be done,” Dombek said. “I was about ready to give up.”
But the hindrance of combining two crafts was not enough to doom the project. One of the associates from the Little Rock firm informed Dombek that there was a 125-year-old company in Germany called Glasmalerei Peters Studios that specializes in a common stained glass style in Europe, Dombek said. At first he was skeptical of them, but he went through with the process after getting the names and addresses of who to work with from Germany. A 2-by-2-foot sample piece was made for him to approve before he agreed to take on the project.
“They sent [the glass example] back in about a month, and I was amazed. It’s not my painting, obviously, because it wasn’t watercolor, but it was something else,” Dombek said. “It loses something in that, but it gains something, too.” He was hooked.
Dombek made arrangements to fly to Germany and stay for a week in order to supervise the master craftsmen over the transition of his mystical forest-like paintings into glass windows, but also to learn more about the process. The technique used isn’t traditional stained glass but instead the master craftsmen of the glass company paint with enamel and then fire the piece in a kiln for permanency.
With 11 windows to surround Preacher’s Son, there were many techniques that went into planning the designs. In total, it took the company, with Dombek’s supervision, four to five months to complete. Now with colorful birds and tree branch-filled windows throughout The Preacher’s Son, the building that was once a church has become re-enlightened.
Dombek first worked with watercolor during his sophomore year of high school in 1960. It was the first project his class did, and while his classmates chose other paints to work with, he stuck with the initial assignment. Soon, he realized it was something he liked and was good at.
He received his Bachelor of Architecture in 1974 and went onto graduate school for a master’s in painting, where he earned 38 awards for his artwork and thought it would be easy to make a career out of art. Little did he know, it would take him another 17 years after graduate school working in either architecture at various firms or teaching art before he was able to make money from his paintings.
He had galleries in Dallas, San Francisco and New York. Years later, after receiving a tenured position at a Florida university, he decided to give it up to move back to the Ozarks in 1995 to continue his work.
“[Giving up the tenured position] was one of the hardest decisions, but the very best decision I have ever made,” he said. He returned to Arkansas and bought 8 acres of hay fields where he would plant trees, build a house and adjoined studio and later acquire a further 26 acres of property.
“I wanted my own private space and [to] landscape these spaces,” he said of his land, which includes an old, rickety barn that was built in the late 19th century and has been restored by Dombek and his team into a studio space––an upper level even has glass walls.
Because the Preacher’s Son project was the first time he had worked with art glass, he decided to take what he had learned, like with anything, and integrate his new knowledge into his future works.
“Glass is always changing because of the light; it has a certain sparkle,” Dombek said. “I’m trying to get that sparkle into my paintings.”