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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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‘Her fingerprints are all over the city’: Stained-glass artist Susan Kim dies at 51

UPDATED: Fri., Nov. 29, 2019

Artist Susan Kim wipes down a section of stained glass on June 14, 2007, that now hangs on the ceiling of the renovated Fox Theater in downtown Spokane. Kim spent four months working on the restoration of the Fox, mending glass pieces for the theater’s giant starburst and sunburst light fixtures, as well as several art deco pieces on the exterior of the building. (The Spokesman-Review photo archive)
Artist Susan Kim wipes down a section of stained glass on June 14, 2007, that now hangs on the ceiling of the renovated Fox Theater in downtown Spokane. Kim spent four months working on the restoration of the Fox, mending glass pieces for the theater’s giant starburst and sunburst light fixtures, as well as several art deco pieces on the exterior of the building. (The Spokesman-Review photo archive)

Susan Kim spent thousands of hours crafting a giant image of a flashy bird.

In 2002, she designed and cut nearly 6,000 pieces of stained glass to create the ceiling mosaic in the Peacock Room Lounge at the Historic Davenport Hotel, which draws the attention of any visitor who stops in for a drink.

The 12-by-28-foot masterpiece, titled “Reflections on a Peacock,” earned her recognition as well as commissions for numerous other projects in Eastern Washington.

But her sons say Kim was anything but flashy.

“She was super humble,” said Nick Ponting, 28.

“She didn’t want any recognition or to be in any posts or any pictures,” said Thomas Kim, 25. “She just wanted to make the art.”

Susan Kim, who owned a shop called Reflections Stained Glass in Spokane Valley, died Nov. 9 after a battle with chronic health problems, according to her sons. She was 51.

A memorial service was held Saturday at Millwood Community Presbyterian Church, where her talents remain on display in the form of 18-foot-tall sanctuary windows.

Kim’s other projects include stained-glass images of tigers and roaming giraffes in the lobby of the Davenport Tower at 111 S. Post St., as well as a mosaic depicting the Monroe Street Bridge in the lobby of the Davenport Grand Hotel at 333 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.

Kim also led the team of artisans who refurbished two massive stained-glass light fixtures in the Fox Theater in 2007, and she was recruited to make panels for countless homes and churches in the region.

“Her fingerprints are all over the city,” Ponting said. “It’s going to be quite a project to just document all of her work.”

Kim was born in Beaverton, Oregon, but spent most of her life in the Spokane area. She graduated from University High School in 1985 and then studied art at Whitworth College (now Whitworth University).

At Whitworth, she learned how to design and cut stained glass from Walter “Spike” Grosvenor, who became a lifelong mentor and collaborator. That was the extent of her formal training with the medium.

“I only ever took two stained-glass classes, but I guess it was just my thing,” she told the Spokane Journal of Business in 2017.

Grosvenor, who died in September at age 81, was an art professor for 31 years at Whitworth, where he also coached baseball and soccer. A painter by training, he taught himself how to create with stained glass and was appointed to the board of directors of the Stained Glass Association of America.

After graduating from Whitworth in 1989, Kim moved to Southern California and briefly worked at a stained glass studio there. She returned to Spokane and worked at another studio from 1991 until it closed in 1994.

In 1998, as its owner was preparing to retire, Kim purchased Gallery of Glass, a shop in a small strip mall at 9405 E. Sprague Ave. She renamed the business Reflections Stained Glass.

“We’ve been in here since we were little,” Ponting said, standing in the studio surrounded by pieces of colored and textured glass, tools hanging on a wall behind the counter.

Ponting is now a stage actor and graduate student at the University of California, San Diego, and Thomas Kim is a student and competitive paintballer.

Before she died, both sons helped their mother with various stained-glass projects. Along with Grosvenor, she worked on Millwood Community Presbyterian Church over the course of a decade.

Speaking to the Journal of Business in 2017, Kim said her line of work was far from lucrative.

“I need a new water heater and a new car right now,” she said at the time. “I’m still in business because I can hold my breath long enough and have a passion for what I do.”

She kept working as her health problems progressed, sometimes late into the night, striving for perfection, her sons said. Her recent projects include Holy Cross Lutheran Church at 7307 N. Nevada St. and Zion Lutheran Church in the town of Davenport.

Thomas Kim said his mother’s artistry was underappreciated. He even compared her Peacock Room skylight to the stained-glass windows of the Sainte-Chapelle and the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

“And I’ve been fortunate enough to see those places in person,” he said.

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