Sweetwater Gallery

by Jeff Tryon

For decades, Ron Schuster’s stained glass and glass work has fueled one of Nashville’s signature shops, the Sweetwater Gallery. Located at 145 S. Van Buren in the Back-to-Back Complex the gallery features stained glass, solid glass paperweights, pottery, and kaleidoscopes.

Many shop owners fall in love with the village of Nashville and the beauty of Brown County before pursuing the dream of making a living here. For Ron Schuster, it was more opportunity than love that drew him.

He and his wife Penny moved here from Indianapolis 30 years ago. “I had just started working with glass as a hobby and it quickly turned into something that was going to get me out of the city,” said Mr. Schuster. “We tied up with Donn Stoffer and his brother Doug (jeweler and owner of Grasshoppper Flats),” he explained. “As time went by, Don and I became partners in a business. Donn did the metal sculpture and I did stained glass.” When Donn retired to Florida, Ron took over the store.

Schuster doesn’t rely on commercial patterns for his glass designs. “I’ve got around 400 patterns that I’ve designed and catalogued over the years that I can draw on.” Most are nature themes or Victorian-inspired pieces that recall the true heritage of stained glass. “We do a lot of hummingbirds and dogwood and oak leaves and those kind of pieces, and then some Victorian with beveled glass,” Mr. Schuster said. “We get people from all over the Midwest who come in with a template and an idea.

“We have a good location and a lot of return customers. People are bringing their kids back to Nashville and sharing with them the same things they saw 20 years ago….”

“My wife Penny takes care of the ordering and bookkeeping and the business end,” he said. “There was a 10-year chunk in there when she was making pottery and we were selling her pottery. When she stopped making pottery, we just continued buying and selling it.”

Gallery manager Kathy Loomis runs the store and her husband, Keith Loomis, helps in the off-site glass studio. “He and I design and make all the stained glass and paperweights,” said Mr. Schuster.

Also helping at the Gallery is Claire Mitchell.

Mr. Schuster credits most of his success to those helpers. “Be sure and mention my help,” he said. “It’s not like I’m doing this all myself. Without them and my wife, Penny, it would be a disaster.”

Mr. Schuster has a positive view of Nashville and it’s future. “I’ve always had a lot of confidence in Nashville and where it was going,” he said. “I’ve always felt its art history is its most important aspect as far as getting and maintaining a good visitor base. It’s what makes it unique and I think what makes it valuable.

“I think we’re safe in that,” he said. “I feel that if people as individuals are steadfast and hold onto their values, that they can prevail. There’s so much good in Nashville. If you make a list of what’s positive, you come up with quite a list. You can go to other tourist areas and there might be a nice gallery, but we’ve got ten. And of an incredible caliber.”

But, for Mr. Schuster, his Brown County story is not the same love affair as with others who have come here to make successful businesses. “Nature and I are a sort of a love-hate thing,” he laughs. “I moved here and developed allergies and I have been suffering for 30 years. Tree pollen in the spring, leaves in the fall, and dust and mold in between.

“But I just sort of refuse to leave,” he said. “I won’t be driven out. I love what I’m doing here and I think it would be very hard for me to duplicate anywhere else—to do the artwork that I’m able to do here and have success with it.”