January 2014
Simple Times

I Would Say You Are an Artist

 
  Len Murphy and one of the stained-glass church windows he helped Chuck Peters create. Right, one of the Georgia church windows installed.

Len Murphy has retired twice in his lifetime: once from the Homewood Police Department where he served as an officer for many years seeing the best and worst of humanity; and once from the engineering test department of Harley Davidson in Talladega.

Add in a successful term as an elected Oneonta City Councilman, numerous beautifully crafted wood items in his home and the homes of family members (there are many trees and other outdoor projects that will be enjoyed for years thanks to his work as an amateur arborist), and a 3-year stint playing bass guitar in the contemporary band at Lester Memorial Methodist Church.

Then there’s the gorgeous landscaping at his and his wife Mary’s spacious home at Limestone Springs with the beautiful natural stone patio and backyard retaining wall they crafted themselves, and even more outdoor projects there, PLUS decorating and other projects at the couple’s part-time home on the Gulf Coast and you’d think Len would be about ready to slow down just a bit.

 
Left to right, Len Murphy works in his stained glass studio.  Len Murphy burnishes the edges of glass with gold foil.  

Mary (a former homicide detective with the Birmingham Police Department and now executive director of the Prescott House, an advocacy center for abused and neglected children) and Len do spend as much time as possible enjoying both their homes, but Len’s latest projects are a fulfillment of a lifetime dream: for the past couple of years he’s been crafting beautiful stained glass windows, wall hangings and other decorations.

"I’ve just always been fascinated with stained glass," Len explained. "I’ve been wanting to do this for years, but just couldn’t find anybody to teach me.

Then he discovered Chuck Peters at Cloudland Glass in Cloudland, Ga.

  Len Murphy crafted this detailed ocean view for the couple’s master bath.

Peters has been a designer, craftsman and artist throughout his life, and has created stained- glass windows and sculptures since the early 1970s. He, too, began originally as a hobby during his career in the corporate world as an artist, designer and creative director, but his passion for the craft soon meant he had numerous commissions to complete.

His work is now on display throughout the United States and Europe at residences, commercial sites, churches, cathedrals and galleries. Known as a "Master Craftsman," Peters’ love for sculpture and glass has combined to create unique three-dimensional, stained-glass sculptures and more, and Len said he felt blessed to be invited to study with such an artist.

Peters was working on a complete set of stained glass windows for a small church so Len’s education began truly as a "baptism by fire."

Not only did he have to learn to cut the intricate pieces of glass and then solder them in place but they also had to complete intricate adjustments for each window since the aging building was not squared and none of the windows, although close, were of the exact same size.

Especially daunting was making certain the round plates from another artist could be fitted exactly into the tops of each window.

Going by the designs and cutting the intricate glass was intriguing ("Remember I was an engineer," he laughed), but soldering the often tiny pieces in place was detailed and often tedious work.

 

 

 

Above, a close-up of Len Murphy’s unique stained glass cross. Left, the Murphys’ Gulf Coast Christmas tree features stained-glass crosses made by Len.

"When you solder the front side then you have to turn it over and solder the back. It’s really flimsy at that point. He had special tables and equipment he’d made especially so he could turn them over without putting any stress on the windows," Len explained.

Another beautiful window handcrafted by Len Murphy in their Limestone Springs home.   

In addition to learning the intricacies of cutting and fitting the beautifully colored pieces of glass, Len also took detailed photos of Peters’ workshop and each individual table for the different areas of work.

Len spent months with Peters soaking in the atmosphere, the techniques and the love of the stained glass.

He learned to not only score the glass, then cut it, but also to grind the edges and then burnish the edges with gold foil, utilizing a specialized machine.

Len sold much of his woodworking equipment amassed through the years in order to have more room at his Limestone Springs’ home basement to outfit a complete stained glass studio patterned heavily on Peters’.

He’s crafted many smaller projects including crosses and other figures for the couple’s Gulf Coast Christmas tree including a cross especially made for Mary detailing the crucifixion.

He has tables of beautiful sheets of glass which he orders, but he never ever throws away even the tiniest bit of colored beauty.

"There’s always a use, always somewhere you can fit in just that little bit of color," he explained.

He has projects in mind utilizing some of his mother’s older costume jewelry, and some of the Christmas crosses include keepsakes from both sides of his and Mary’s families.

  Just for fun, one of Len Murphy’s metal crafts: a “Jimmy Buffett”-type clock where it’s “always five o’clock.”

His engineering and draftsman background mean he has crafted some beautiful items others say are nearly impossible!

But it is the larger works that are amazing at their Limestone Springs home.

A vibrant ocean scene completely covers what was a "plain" window above the soaking tub in their master bath.

The arch over the home’s front door, measuring more than 40 inches tall and 60 inches wide was so intricate Len had to have a special helper to assist with the installation.

Len doesn’t plan on selling any of his work and does it primarily for his own enjoyment.

"I have to be in a special mood to solder - to make it pretty," he said.

Talking about the large fish window over the tub he notes, "I fooled around with that design for a long time, probably two months or more."

Len’s latest project was a lighthouse window based on a photo of a South Carolina lighthouse.

When he sent a photo of the completed window to Peters he received this reply: "This was a very nice design, layout, use of the bevels and your soldering has much improved. I would say you ARE an artist."

Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County. She can be reached through her website at www.suzysfarm.com.