STAINED GLASS ARTISAN Gary Elshoff (above) created the work “Night Vision Romance” as a surprise Christmas gift for the pilots, Air Force Capt. Christine McLean and her husband, Navy Lt. Jeff McLean. The work is patterned after a mid-flight refueling captured on camera by a nearby pilot (lower left image). McLean (lower right) was all smiles when he picked up the finished piece shortly before Christmas at Elshoff’s Grafton studio, Flying Colors Glass. Top photo by Sam Arendt
Grafton artisan captures military refueling mission by husband, wife pilots
A surprise Christmas gift created by Grafton stained-glass artisan Gary Elshoff captured a rare moment where military muscle blended with a romantic encounter.
The internally lit glass panel, done largely in shades of green, depicts a nightscope image of a U.S. Air Force KC-145 Stratotanker refueling a Navy F/A-18
Super Hornet fighter in mid-air somewhere over Pakistan. The piece is titled “Night Vision Romance.”
The romantic angle of the scene comes into play because the tanker pilot is Air Force Capt. Christine McLean and the fighter pilot is her husband, Navy Lt. Jeff McLean.
Both pilots grew up in Mequon and graduated from Homestead High School. Jeff earned his wings at the Naval Academy in Annapolis and Christine at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
They dated off and on beginning in high school and were married in May of 2009.
The original photo was taken by McLean’s wingman, who placed night goggles over his camera to capture the brief nighttime rendezvous. The image was included with a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel story in June.
McLean’s father, Mequon resident Don McLean, approached Elshoff about putting the scene on stained glass as a Christmas gift to the couple — who have spent much of the first year of their married life on duty in different parts of the world.
Elshoff was the right man for the job.
He specializes in stained-glass depictions of airplanes, and he readily accepted the commission.
Elshoff is self-taught and began working with stained glass as a hobby. That interest grew into his profession in 2002.
His company, Flying Colors Glass, uses a motto that resonates with aviation fanatics — “Turn a plain window into a plane window.”
Elshoff estimates he has made more than 300 glass scenes, almost all of them featuring planes. They hang in homes, offices, restaurants, airplane hangars and, in one case, on the ceiling above a client’s bed.
The works include everything from vintage biplanes and World War II warplanes to single-engine Cesnas and huge commercial airliners.
His art has been featured in such specialized publications as Pacific Flyer and Flying Adventures magazines and the national newspaper General Aviation News.
Elshoff said he first developed a love of planes when his son was studying aeronautics in Arizona, but he has no desire himself to become a pilot.
“I do all of my flying on glass. I’ve never had any interest in getting into that left seat (the pilot’s seat),” Elshoff said.
Word of his prowess as an artisan with glass spread throughout the aviation community.
“I’ve become known as ‘the glass guy’ among all the pilots,” Elshoff said.
Although he is a stickler for detail, he tells clients that they are certain to know more about every nuance of their plane than he could ever portray in stained glass.
“I portray the details but need wiggle room. I capture the suggestion of flight,” Elshoff said.
“I use my passion to capture their passion on glass. The real beauty of stained glass is that it can change as the light of the day changes.”
Elshoff said the permanence of stained-glass work is its greatest selling point.
“Pictures can fade, digital files can get erased, but an image preserved in glass is forever,” he said.
Elshoff said there is no such thing as a “typical” timeframe for the creation of a stained-glass work.
It can take months or longer for a project to evolve, from a rendering on paper to approval from the client and then painstaking creation.
For the McLean project, Elshoff worked with Port Washington cabinetmaker Robert Goebel.
“I knew the glasswork was fine, but I was amazed when the panel slid so perfectly into Bob’s cabinet. It was a perfect collaboration,” Elshoff said.
To achieve the eerie sense of looking through night-vision goggles, he said he needed just the right amount of subdued lighting. Elshoff settled on the
delicate lights from an HO model train set.
The real measure of the project came a few days before Christmas, when Jeff McLean and his mother Mary stopped at Elshoff’s studio to pick up the finished work.
“Jeff was delighted. He just smiled and said he could hardly wait to show it to all the guys in his squadron,” Elshoff said.