Columbia couple doubles studio time – stained glass and movies

Bill Roberson working on glass window
Here Bill Roberson is intently working on a glass design. This is just one of the projects Roberson had been creating on this day.

Classical Glass of South Carolina owners Bill and Hi Roberson lead a double artistic life. You’ll find them in films like “Forrest Gump” and “Radio,” and you’ll find their stained-glass work in churches throughout the area, at a Georgia vineyard and at Fort Jackson, among other places.

By Kathryn Duggan
April 24, 2014

As sunlight bounces playfully off the pieces that fill Classical Glass, Bill Roberson hunches over, working on a stained-glass window with the design of a soaring bird, then glances up and waves. His wife approaches from behind the front desk of the shop on Main Street, near Earlewood Park, to show off the other glass pieces, each one of a kind.

Bill and Hi Roberson in front of Classical Glass shop
Bill and Hi Roberson smile proudly outside of Classical Glass. They are about to close shop after working on glass pieces all day.

The Robersons have been running Classical Glass for more than 20 years, and their work can be found in churches, businesses and homes around Columbia and beyond. Two of their windows hang at Fort Jackson in memory of two Army officers killed at the Pentagon in the September 11 attacks.

But there’s more to the Robersons’ art – each has acted in big-name films.

Bill Roberson is the one relaxing on a park bench with Tom Hanks in “Forrest Gump,” for instance. And among Hi’s roles have been the school receptionist in “Radio” and Mrs. Dunn in “Leatherheads.”

She recalls first seeing George Clooney on the “Leatherheads” set and saying to herself: “I’m going to take 10 minutes to stare and get over it. Are you really that pretty? Yes you are!”

“You meet really nice, cool people in the shop too, just not big names,” she said.

Their customers are people like Doug Paul, a high school friend of Bill’s, who came from Georgia to have Classical Glass create a piece for his Three Sisters Vineyard. Paul said he and his wife grew up with Roberson, and “I knew him, I trusted him, and no one else could do it but Bill.”

People are fascinated to hear that the fat man on the bench in “Forrest Gump” is the same man who created the piece for the vineyard, he said.

Roberson said the couple works in the shop and that when an acting opportunity arises they schedule a way to pursue it. But, he said, “We keep the two things separate.”

Guy Fowler, currently the only other person at Classical Glass, said that over the years Robersons have balanced owning the shop and acting by recruiting employees they can trust when they’re away on set.

The Robersons are flexible in allowing time for other passions because they know what it’s like to balance things, said Fowler, who has been designing at Classical Glass for four years. His other passions are playing saxophone and keyboard, which he’s done for 35 years.

“They are really nice people who take care of their own; they treat you like their own family,” he said.

Listen as Bill Roberson describes why they decided to open up Classical Glass in Earlewood.
Hear Hi Roberson tell the most rewarding moment for her personally, which is the two stained glass windows in honor of the Army soldiers killed at the Pentagon on September 11.
Quiz yourself to see how well you know the Robersons’ filmography

In June 2002, for instance, Roberson wrote a letter to the editor of The State newspaper urging state legislators to be more concerned with South Carolinians’ health, as he cared deeply for the health of his employees.

As an undergrad at East Carolina University in the late 1970s, Roberson said, he switched from art to drama because that’s where the cute girls were. Hi Roberson said she got the acting bug in the mid-70s at what was then the Mississippi State College for Women. She said she lost a bet and had to audition for the musical “Stop the World – I Want to Get Off.”  

She still favors the stage over film. “I love the interaction with live audiences,” she said.

Her husband prefers film but said he’s still not used to watching himself on screen.

“When you see yourself on film, you see yourself like most other people see you. It’s an odd phenomenon,” he said.  However, part of the thrill is to “see if you can hang with those guys at the top.”

The couple met in 1981 doing summer stock theater in New Bern, N.C.,  and through the years kept acting in various productions, including some in Columbia.

The doorway to the movies opened through agent Charlie Peterson, owner of Harvest Talent. Peterson said he knew the Robersons through friends and first encouraged Bill to audition for a role about 25 years ago.

The work kept coming as directors filming in the Carolinas called.

The glass-work began with a 1989 Valentine’s Day gift from Hi, who said she bought Bill a class on glass design after noticing his interest. Roberson said he was interested in a new form of art he hadn’t tried yet.

Classical Glass was born in 1993 when they realized they could make money at it. A typical piece starts at an average of $300.

Dianne Quinn of Blythewood is a return customer, having bought a second window after moving to a new home. “When you put a piece like that in your home, it’s almost like a piece of art,” she said.

two children in front of window at Washington Street Methodist Church
Here two sisters in the Washington Street Methodist Church children’s program take a break from playing to sit in front of the bright window. Classical Glass created this window to depict the tale of Noah’s Ark.

Three of the Robersons’ windows hang in the child development center at Washington Street Methodist Church where business administrator Robbie Douglas said the bright colors help “make an old place feel new and make it more enjoyable for the children.”

“These pieces definitely add richness to the church and help tell our religion’s stories,” he said.

The couple’s most meaningful glass pieces are at Fort Jackson, Hi Roberson said without hesitation. The windows at the Noncommissioned Officer Academy honor Sgts. Maj. Lacey Ivory and Larry Strickland and incorporate their shields along with the date, 09-11-01.

Their widows helped with the dedication, to which the Robersons were invited, and emotion can still be heard in Hi Roberson’s voice as she describes the day.

“We worked really, really hard to come up with a design that would be majestic, would represent America and would honor these men,” she said.

Additional Resources:

IMDB for Bill Roberson: Check out Bill Roberson’s entire filmography on IMDB.

IMDB for Hi Roberson: Look at a list of the movies Hi Roberson has been in.

Classical Glass: This is the Classical Glass website which includes a portfolio of past works as well as contact information and store location.

Classical Glass Facebook: See more pictures and reviews from previous customers on the Classical Glass Facebook page.

Find New Markets Interview with Bill Roberson: Learn even more from Bill Roberson about the Classical Glass business and how it operates.

Earlewood Neighborhood Snapchat Archive:Find out what Bill Roberson’s neighbors in Earlewood say about him as a resident.

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One thought on “Columbia couple doubles studio time – stained glass and movies

  1. You two never stop amazing me.Just as wonderful as every. We have known eah other for 25yrs. when you all came to Columbus, Ohio in an acting group.John and I now have a home in Naples,Fla. and will need a new stain glass for our home. We will keep in touch and come through Columbia to visit. Much Love to you Both Pam and John O’Brien

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