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Gary Elshoff Turns Plain Glass Into Plane Glass

United 787 Dreamliner

Aviation is a niche interest, and everyone has a story behind why they love the phenomenon of flight. To non-aviation enthusiasts, it is hard to convey these stories in words, but one talented artist has successfully brought them to life in a very unique way – stained glass.

Gary Elshoff is the mastermind behind Flying Colors Glass, the home of visually stunning aviation-themed stained glass windows. Each panel of glass is thoughtfully crafted, with the mission to bring “Light to Flight” through unique images, shapes, textures, and colors. Gary is self-taught and has established his own style and technique for his work. His art includes all kinds of aircraft, including commercial planes, fighter jets, rotorcraft, and crop dusters, and can be found in museums, FBOs, hangars, and universities across the United States, Europe, and Japan.

In Gary’s 20 years of artistry, he has single-handedly created over 300 pieces of aviation glass, each with a story behind it. I was able to speak with Gary to discuss his art and the inspiration that turned his hobby into a career.

What got you interested in stained glass, and why aviation specifically?

It started when I initially found an old stained glass lampshade in my grandfather’s basement, and I went from just being curious to teaching myself how to do it. As far as why aviation, it was actually my son who had an interest in airplanes starting when he was very small. His interest morphed into my interest, and it went from there.

For many years this was just a hobby, but when I decided to get serious about it, I realized that stained glass art is an excellent contemporary medium for presenting a contemporary subject, the airplane, which was already dominant in the things I had been doing. My son has actually also made aviation a career too. He works as an aeronautical engineer and helped design parts for the 787 Dreamliner.

I love that this was a family interest and that both you and your son have made aviation a career. Speaking of the 787, I saw the United Dreamliner in your gallery. What is the story behind that piece?

I developed that piece after meeting some people at the National Business Aviation Association Convention in Orlando. Their company develops unique products for United Airlines, and we started talking about different aircraft they were working on, and one mentioned the most recent one was the 787 Dreamliner.

At the time, the paint scheme was their new look, so they wanted me to emphasize the gold band along the fuselage. I wanted it to be as robust as possible, but this one was a big challenge, especially the logo on the tail. Every time I fire color in the kiln, it takes about 8-10 hours to complete, plus another 8-10 hours of cool down after that, so this piece took a very long time. It’s easier for me to do military aircraft than commercial aircraft because there’s a lot more lines on airliners, like the windows and individual characteristics.


I assume the 8-10 hours is per color, so this must take a lot of planning, especially if you have a lot of different colors.

Right, plus some colors fire at different temperatures, so I usually do the hotter temperatures first. The planning aspect is a technique I’ve developed over the years. There aren’t many people that paint on stained glass to the extent that I do for the detail that I include.

You mention that you put a lot of work into the detail and planning of the art. Given that, how long does it take for a piece to go from idea to final product?

“Night Vision Romance” depicts a night-time image of a U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refueling a Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter, mid-air somewhere over Afghanistan. The pilots of the two aircraft are husband and wife.

That is the hardest question to answer because each piece is different. I start by asking the client a lot of questions, such as what specific markings they want on the piece, what they want it to represent, where it is going to go, how it is going to be lit, how big they want it, etc.

From there, I’ll do a lot of research, looking at photos and videos of that particular plane in the specific era that they want. Then I send the client a few sketches, and once they approve that, then it could take as short as a week to complete the project, but others could take longer depending on how busy I am.

Are the projects all done by yourself, or do you have a partner?

I do everything myself. I do the design work, the cutting, firing in the kiln, the painting, and all of the details. I am a bugger for details for all of these things, and I want to get them just right for the client. When I’m done, my tagline is that I turn a plain window into a PLANE window. It’s a trademark of what I do.

So it appears that you do a lot of specially tailored projects, and you mentioned that you like to tell a story through your work. What are some of your favorite pieces you’ve done for clients?

The fun behind working with customers is that everyone has a special interest, need, or feeling about airplanes, and the stories are most fascinating. If I had to choose a favorite, one would be the art that depicts a navy fighter F-18 refueling from an Air Force tanker.

This one is special because the pilots of those two planes were husband and wife. The husband had flown 25 missions over Iraq and Afghanistan and literally never met up with his wife until his very last mission when he called the tanker, and his wife was the one who responded to the call. The art is based on a photograph his wingman took through night-vision camera optics.

The fighter pilot’s father commissioned me to do the window for his son and his wife, so that piece is extraordinary because it is a romantic story in the sky. Another one was done for a marine aviator. He flew the first-night attack mission over a special bridge in North Vietnam. I was happy to make this one because it captures a moment in history that I was able to memorialize in a stained glass window.


“Night Mission to Hanoi” depicts a USMC A6-A Intruder conducting the first-night attack mission on the Paul Doumer Bridge in North Vietnam.


Your website says your artwork is displayed in various locations across the United States and abroad. Any place, in particular, a curious eye could find one?

I have three big windows in the reception hall at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona. I also have two panels in the San Diego Air and Space Museum, as well as at random airports here and there, but a majority are not in public places. People have them in their hangars, homes, or closed offices.

However, the biggest one I’ve done is one of the famous Memphis Belle. That one hangs in the Indiana Military Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana, and is over seven feet long. I love the story behind that piece because the Memphis Belle is one of the most extraordinary aircraft from World War II.


panels at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona">

Stained glass window panels at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona

If you’re interested in Gary’s work, be sure to check out his gallery on his website! If you want a personalized piece of your own, reach out to Gary via email at [email protected] or via cell at (262) 377-5505.


wesleyklein443 March 2, 2020

I love that Gary is able to combine his love for aviation and art. Especially if you're able to make such unique pieces of plane art as a result. I hope i get to see his artwork in real life some time.