Glass Act

A Glencoe couple share their passion for glass art­—and their world-class collection.

Bruce and Judy Bendoff with pieces of glass art by Toots Zynsky, Paul Stankard, Jiyong Lee and Laura Donefer.

A painting by Ida Kohlmeyer complements colorful pieces of glass art in the Bendoffs’ living room.

When Bruce and Judy Bendoff started dating more than 50 years ago, the young couple celebrated their budding relationship by purchasing a set of glass ducks by Fostoria. From this romantic beginning grew a collection of more than 250 works, including pieces from some of the greatest masters of the American studio glass movement—Dale Chihuly, Marvin Lipofsky and William Morris, to name a few—and a decades-long passion and drive to support all elements of the art of fine glassmaking. “We’ve felt it’s always been important for us to support art, and this is the kind of art that we choose to support,” says Judy. “We have paintings, of course, and some other pieces, but glass is just magical to us.”

The Bendoffs’ love of the medium has taken them all over the globe, from touring artists’ studios in Italy and France to visiting Chihuly himself. So strong is their desire to promote the work of these visionary artists that Bruce is currently the president of the Midwest Contemporary Glass Art Group, and Judy is the secretary of the national Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass. Both feel that the many people they’ve met along the way, such as leading gallerists, fellow collectors and the artists themselves, have enriched their lives in ways they never anticipated. “In the world of glass, there is a very special bond that develops between the collectors and these artists,” says Bruce. “We’ve known many of them for more than 30 years. It’s been a wonderful part of
the journey.”

The warmth and friendliness Bruce describes is immediately evident upon entering the couple’s Glencoe home, which was constructed 14 years ago with many details chosen to showcase their jaw-dropping collection. In the open and airy living room, sunlight from floor-to-ceiling windows passes through three large-scale architectural pieces from Vladimira Klumpar and Libenský/Brychtová, making them seem to glow from within. “They seem to change every hour of the day as the characteristics of the light in the home change,” says Bruce. “It’s like we get to wake up every day and enjoy them all over again.” The cozy library boasts wall-to-wall shelving that displays an assortment of colorful objects from internationally renowned talents like John Cuen and Steven Weinberg, as well as a beloved commission by Vivian Wang. While the grouping is eclectic, Bruce shares that he and Judy agreed on most purchases. “I would say that 99 percent of the time our tastes are in sync,” he laughs. The home’s architect, Stuart Shayman, designed custom millwork and cabinetry to accommodate many of the Bendoffs’ cherished pieces, while several hallways feature perfectly lit alcoves to spotlight showstoppers such as a prized Chihuly macchia. (The pieces from Fostoria that originally ignited the couple’s love of glass currently reside on a shelf in the master bedroom.) And while historic pieces of art are present in nearly every room, visitors are never left feeling they need to sit on their own hands. “We never wanted a museum,” explains Judy about her desire for spaces that felt welcoming. “We wanted a home where everyone who comes here can be comfortable. It’s a very happy home, even with the glass living here. It’s not the type of place where people feel, ‘Oh, I better not touch anything!’” An important mindset to have, especially when the couple’s six grandchildren come to visit.

One of the highlights of the Bendoffs’ year is SOFA Chicago (sofaexpo.com), an annual showcase for sculptural and functional art that’s celebrating its 20th anniversary Nov. 1-3 at Chicago’s Navy Pier (600 E. Grand Ave.), with an opening night preview Oct. 31. The event has been a source for many of the couple’s acquisitions and serves as a vital link for a vast community of collectors, gallery owners and artists. “We anticipate seeing the work and discovering what the artists are up to, but we also look forward to seeing our fellow collectors, who have become true friends,” says Judy. “It’s the most important show of the year, and we’re so proud that our city hosts it.” We’ll raise a glass to that!