From the NFL to ‘Fixer Upper’: This former Chiefs linebacker makes art from old glass

Figuratively speaking, more than a million miles separate the bucolic hills of Orrick, Mo., and the urban bustle of New York City.

There’s a similarly huge distance between the worlds of football and art. But former NFL linebacker Chad Kilgore is at home in both.

At 6 feet 1 inches tall, Kilgore looks like a bruiser — but his nature is gentle. So how did he make the leap from scrimmages to glass artist?

“I have to start by giving credit to my mom and dad,” Kilgore said while fashioning metal frames in his garage-turned-workshop.

Parents Brenda and Mark Kilgore marvel at Chad’s dedication to his craft, remembering when, in the not-too-distant past, their youngest son was volleying ideas back and forth on his future career.

Chad played football throughout high school at Excelsior Springs and then during college at Northwest Missouri State University in Maryville. He was signed by the Oakland Raiders, the Kansas City Chiefs, and finally the Saskatchewan Roughriders, where he played a season.

One broken thumb and a crushed ankle later, Chad said, “No more.”

“I actually got the idea to follow in my parents’ footsteps since they are the best ‘pickers’ ever,” he says.

Brenda and Mark have been scavenging the countryside for antiques for as long as Chad can remember. While growing up, he watched the barns on the family farm overflow with forgotten treasures.

One day, an old barn in Smithville presented Chad with an opportunity he couldn’t resist.

“As my mom was rummaging through this dilapidated barn, I noticed a pile of glass leaning against the wall,” he says. “The glass was old, or so I thought, since water and mud damage had adhered the papers separating the 60 odd pieces.”

Chad bought the entire batch of glass, took it into his “lab,” otherwise known as his garage, and began welding metal frames for each panel.

In April 2016, the whole family, including Chad’s wife Nikki, decided the glass work was good enough to merit a booth at Round Top Antiques Fair, the Texas Hill Country’s premiere antique show.

Chad’s space at the fair was sophisticated and unique, dressed with rustic yet elegant antique furnishings with his panels as a focal point.

All of the glass panels sold before the show started.

“Chad has this talent that he’s just now discovering,” says Brenda.

Apparently, Joanna Gaines agrees with Brenda.

Gaines, who starred with husband Chip in the wildly popular HGTV show “Fixer Upper,” bought nine 16-by-28-inch panels from Chad.

One year later, the panels appeared in an episode on the show and later in their magazine, The Magnolia Journal.

Sales skyrocketed and Chad worked all winter, from early morning to long after dusk, to fill orders.

He figured out a way to replicate the paper-encrusted designs onto new glass. The process involves fixing paper to glass with glue and water, then sanding and distressing. The results of his trial and error were artistic panels that garnered the attention of buyers.

Chad took his glass panels to design and trade shows at High Point Market in North Carolina, Pier 94 in New York City and again to Round Top — a dizzying tour for the 28-year-old linebacker-turned-artist.

Last year, Chad saw an ad in Architectural Digest magazine and applied for their prestigious Design show. He entered and won Best in Show in the Adaptive Reuse division. His prizes: An invitation to a soiree hosted by the American Society of Interior Designers and lots of new contacts in the world of design. New York-based interior designer Amy Lau commissioned Chad to make a 10-by-10-foot piece for a client’s home.

It’s all been a whirlwind for this craftsman who has found his niche miles from first downs.

Chad’s work is still affordable with individual panels starting at $225 and run up to $4,000 for matching sets.

“Approximately 75 percent of my buyers are interior designers who buy the work in a series,” he says. “But a commission is a commission; whatever the public wants, I’ll create.”