Longtime Joliet glass artist closes retail location, but hopeful for the future
Many people don’t think about eventually closing their dream business while it’s opening, and Sue Regis of Joliet was one of them.
But Regis is forever thankful to her parents, who urged Regis to purchase health insurance when Regis opened Regis Glass Art in 2005, Regis said.
“So I’ve always had health insurance,” Regis said.
That health insurance was more handy than Regis thought in January 2022, when Regis underwent a four-hour surgery to remove endometrial-like tissue that “basically took over” most of her pelvic and abdominal area, she said. She also had her appendix and both ovaries removed, plunging her into instant menopause. She’d had a hysterectomy in 2016, also because of the endometriosis, Regis said.
Her health insurance came in handy when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2022, and underwent a double mastectomy. And that health insurance still is coming in handy. Regis said she also is dealing with issues in her shoulder and brachial plexus and may need surgery at some point. The shoulder issue is only allowing her to work only 10 to 15 minutes at a time. For that reason, Regis recently passed the torch to Angelica Cristal of Joliet, who now is running her own glass art business at Regis’ retail space in downtown Joliet.
Cristal said she and Regis previously shared a studio in Regis’ former location. Regis’ mentorship, along with the desire to keep the shop open for Regis when she can work full time again, inspired this full-time electrician to also become a business owner.
“Sue is so calm collected and organized and I’m a crazy artist,” Cristal said. “Her structure has helped me decided this is the way to go.”
Regis said she is only letting the storefront go. She is keeping her equipment at the store and still running the memorial side of her business: encasing cremated remains of beloved family members or pets in glass.
“I did finish a memorial order for the first time a couple of weeks ago,” Regis said. “I’d been working on it since January. … I’m looking forward to the future when I can go crazy again. The goal is to get healthy and to get back into there and work with Angie when she and I can collaborate on things.”
Merging art and business to comfort the grieving
Regis began creating glass art shortly after high school when she took a jewelry making class at Joliet Junior College and learned to make glass beads, according to a 2009 Herald-News story.
The process of melting glass with a torch fascinated Regis, so she bought equipment to work on her own outside school. By 2009, Regis was making memorial pieces from cremains. This, she said, is really her life’s purpose.
“I feel like I was put on this earth to play with fire and, especially, work in the funeral industry,” Regis said. People travel from nearby states so, “they can meet me and shake my hands.”
It’s Regis’ firm goal to return to the torch full time and offer this service to the public as much as possible, she said.
“Because they mean so much to me,” Regis said. “It’s so inspiring for me and fulfilling to me. I love to help people. I say it over and over again. But it’s the truth. I love being able to help people in the grieving process.”
Regis previous created an annual memorial ornament for Lightways Hospice and Serious Illness Care (formerly Joliet Area Community Hospice) for its Lights of Love Memorial Service at the Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet.
She also co-founded The Art Movement in 2017, chaired the visual arts committee for the Old Joliet Burnt District Artists and served as a commissioner on the Joliet Arts Commission.
Community service through art
Former Joliet resident Alicia Diamond of Washington, who’s also an artist and owner of a wedding photography business, said she has learned much from Regis over their 10-year friendship and still reaches out for business advice.
Diamond admires how Regis serves the Joliet community with her glass art and her glass business, and that’s especially apparent in her memorial work, she said. “She is genuinely interested in your story and who you are. She genuinely cares about you. And I like being friends with someone like that.”
Regis said owners and operators of their businesses often find themselves advocating for their businesses, a skill that benefited her when she became sick and had to advocate for herself. She said she spoke up when she knew “something wasn’t right” and changed providers whenever she felt one wasn’t a good fit for her. She’s thankful one provider ran her estrogen levels – which were high – and insisted Regis get a mammogram at age 43, her first, because Regis always was too busy working for one, she said.
“She saved my life,” Regis said, later stressing, “Get that mammogram. Learn to advocate for yourself.”
So how has Regis managed to pay her bills when she can’t run her business? The same way she survived when she ran Regis Glass art: through the support of the community.
Greg Peerbolte, chief executive officer of the Joliet Area Historical Museum, said the museum is planning another fundraiser for Regis for June 27 at the Old Joliet Prison.
Event details still are being worked out, but Peerbolte said it will include food, live music, prison tours and an auction that will include bottles of Crystal Head Vodka signed by Dan Ackroyd, since the bottle itself was designed with “the creative spirit in mind and no one embodies that more than Sue,” Peerbolte said.
Admission and auction proceeds will benefit Regis, he added.
Regis said she’s using this time to enjoy the local music scene, especially at Chicago Street Pub, The Drunken Donut, The Strange and Unusual Gallery and Elder Brewing, all in Joliet, The Studio in Lockport; and Black Dog Vinyl Cafe in Plainfield.
And Regis said she’s “very blessed and grateful for the support in the community. “It blows my mind and makes me emotional and it’s still blowing my mind. I don’t even know how to talk about it half the time. It’s just so amazing.”