What’s old is new again at Terminal 3 at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
The 1,400-square-foot stained glass ceiling on display from 1979 until 2016 above the escalators in Terminal 3 has been repurposed into a back-lit outdoor installation on the northeast corner of the terminal, just steps away from Door 11 and the short-term parking garage.
The artist behind the stained glass installation comprising more than 2,300 pieces of slab glass is Ken Toney.
Toney is an Arizona artist who spent his entire stained glass career working out of Scottsdale as the owner of Glassart Studio from 1973 to 1976 and the founder of Scottsdale Stained Glass, which he operated until 2004.
“It’s a rewarding feeling,” Toney said. “I’m 85 years old now, so I’m not going to have too many years around to enjoy it. But it’s nice for the kids – I have five children and 14 grandkids – and it’s something to leave for them.”
For the airport installation, Toney used glass called ale de verre, or slab glass, which was produced in sheets by casting molten glass into 8-by-12-inch slabs that are an inch thick.
He then cut the slabs into geometric shapes and faceted the edges and surface to better reflect and refract the light.
The original stained glass ceiling was removed when the terminal closed for modernization in late 2016.
“The drawing was one-twelfth as big as [the ceiling],” Toney recalled of designing the ceiling in the ’70s. “Then, the guys in the shop did all the hard work. They would take the drawings and blow it up. Every little individual piece of glass there was on the drawing, just exactly the way it was.”
The shop to which Toney refers is Scottsdale Stained Glass, which was located on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Goldwater Boulevard.
“It’s been a very rewarding career for me,” said Toney, who retired from the business and has since completed hundreds of paintings. “I got into it by accident.”
A graduate of Arizona State University with a business degree in advertising, Toney worked at a company that published “Arizona Wildlife-Sportsman” magazine as well as several other travel magazines, from 1959 to 1968.
It wasn’t until Joseph C. Lincoln purchased the publishing company that Toney became interested in stained glass art; at the time, Lincoln owned Glassart Studio in Scottsdale, which Toney would later manage and then own.
“That was 1969 that I started working with stained glass, and myself and two other fellows got a small business loan and bought the studio, which we paid off in four years,” Toney said, adding that he started designing because they couldn’t afford to pay a designer.
Self-trained, Toney has designed glass art installations for more than 100 religious, commercial and civic buildings and has designed pieces for more than 1,000 private homes during his 35 years in the business.
“I’ve been the luckiest man in the world,” Toney said. “I’m so fortunate.”
Toney also worked with Ted DeGrazia, an Arizona-based painter known for his vibrant Southwestern art, and, in 1978, began adapting and producing DeGrazia’s paintings in glass.
One year later, Toney was commissioned to create the stained-glass art ceiling in Terminal 3.
“The total price [of all materials] was almost $33,000, and now, that would be $100,000 easily,” Toney said.
Toney was elated to take on the airport terminal project.
“That was a good, big job for us then – a huge job,” he said.
While Toney’s glass art ceiling was installed in 1979, art at Sky Harbor has been a tradition since the early 1960s with the construction of Terminal 2, which opened in 1962 and the commissioned art mural “The Phoenix” by Paul Coze.
“Terminal 3 was designed with art in mind and opened in 1979 with many large-scale commissioned works, including Ken Toney’s stained-glass ceiling,” said Gary Martelli, Phoenix Airport Museum manager and curator.
Toney’s stained-glass installation is now one of 900 pieces in the Phoenix Airport Museum collection, considered one of the largest airport art collections in the United States.
“It includes portable works as well as architecturally integrated works,” Martelli said. “Like all museums, only a fraction of the work is on display at any one time. Most museums typically only have an average of 4 percent of their collection on display at any one time.”
San Francisco International Airport has the largest airport art collection.
“They have more exhibition spaces for programming,” Martelli explained.
The goal of the Phoenix Airport Museum is not necessarily to have the largest collection.
Its mission is to “enhance the airport visitor’s experience by providing a memorable experience that showcases Arizona’s unique artistic and cultural resources.”
The Phoenix Airport Museum also aims to lessen stress, educate and entertain visitors, stimulate the economy, and promote Arizona art and culture.
“Phoenix Airport Museum not only uses its art collection for displays but also curates art for themed exhibitions from the whole state of Arizona. This includes borrowing art from individual artists, museums, galleries, collectors and cultural organizations. This is how we promote Arizona’s artistic and cultural resources,” Martelli said.
What also sets Phoenix Airport Museum apart is 90 percent of the art and exhibitions are located pre-security, unlike other airport art programs. This allows visitors to enjoy the art without having to purchase a plane ticket.
“Because of Sky Harbor’s location being in the middle of the city and accessible to light rail, locals often come to the airport to view the art,” Martelli said. “It’s not uncommon for people to come to Sky Harbor for a date to view art and eat at a local restaurant.”
The first art exhibition at Sky Harbor was in 1988, marking the beginning of the Phoenix Airport Museum then-called the Sky Harbor Art Program.
“Phoenix Sky Harbor was a pioneer in this field and many airports have consulted us in regard to our program and they still do,” Martelli said. “Phoenix Airport Museum is 30 years old; Philadelphia’s program is 20 years old.”
According to Martelli, Sky Harbor has new artist-designed floors and installations in the works that are commissioned through the percent-for-art public art process.
“We are glad that the architects were able to repurpose the stained glass at Terminal 3. The 75-foot-wide Paul Coze Phoenix mural will also be saved at moved to another airport location.”