Angelic Stained Glass of Peter Sterling
by Karen Reider
Like most people
in Sedona, artist Peter Sterling wears more than one hat.
When I first moved
to Sedona 18 years ago, I worked at the only print shop in
town, which typeset just about every brochure, flyer or cassette-cover
around. When Sterling produced his first harp recording “Harp
Magic,” I did the cover.
I was at a retreat
in Cornville recently and commented on the building’s magnificent
stained glass windows. When the owner informed me that Peter
Sterling made them, I replied, “The harp player?”
When we got together
for an interview in his home/studio recently, Sterling showed
me several of his free-hanging stained-glass pieces. Some
he calls his own, some are for sale.
“Well,” he said,
“all of them are for sale when the right person comes along.”
Sterling, who has
been on a spiritual path from a very young age, has learned
many things from working with stained glass - one of them
with glass began when he was just six years old. Every Sunday,
Sterling would go to church with his mom. She would go to
the regular service and he would go to Sunday School with
the rest of the children.
Sunday, his mom invited him into the main church for the Episcopal
service. He was sitting between mom and her best friend watching
the ritual service. He was aware of the chanting and the incense
burning, and was drawn to the stained glass windows above
when something extraordinary happened. Suddenly, the clouds
parted and this beam of colored light came streaming in through
the stained glass. Spellbound by the light, he was transfixed
by its beauty.
In that moment,
Sterling looked up at his mother and proclaimed that he would
be a stained glass window maker when he grew up.
that light coming in anointed him and set in motion what would
one day become his work.
Ten years went
by and Sterling was a junior in high school. Over that time,
he had hardly thought of the stained glass experience at all.
At 16, he was looking for a job and went into the career counseling
office on campus. The first thing he saw on the bulletin board
where the jobs were displayed was “Stained Glass Studio needs
“It jumped out
at me and I thought, ‘wow, that’s just what I want.’”
He called and was
told to come right over.
He met the owner
and they had an instant connection. Sterling began working
there and became apprentice to a master stained glass craftsman.
Barry Marks became like a mentor to Sterling and taught him
everything he knew.
Sterling was a
natural and learned quickly and easily. He was obsessed with
glass, “the texture, the color and the way the light hits
it, how it is translucent and three-dimensional. I was and
am totally hypnotized by the beauty of glass,” he said.
After about a year,
Marks told Sterling he wanted to sell his business. Sterling
went straight to his dad and announced he had found his “life
calling at 16.” He wanted to drop out of school and not go
to college. Sterling wanted his father to buy the business
Marks told him,
“No Peter, it’s too soon. You have to go on. You have a lot
more life to live before you do this.”
Marks’ opinion, Sterling took the knowledge he had gained
over the year and continued on in school.
Another 10 years
went by - the craft he learned was always in the back of his
mind. He was certain it was something he would return to.
At 27, Sterling
was in Aspen, Colorado living as a-kind-of “snow bum,” working
part-time as a ski instructor. He was invited to caretake
a cabin there by a local. When he saw a little room off to
the side, he envisioned working on stained glass.
Eagerly he set
up a studio, got all the tools he would need and “went for
Sterling had moved
to Aspen when he was 20, and after doing the whole ski-bum
thing for seven years, was ready to move on. He knew his life
was changing and the desire to be a full-time artist was prominent.
He had heard about
the majestic red rocks and rumors of the spiritual Mecca called
Sedona. One day when he had hiked to the top of a mountain
in Aspen, he got very clearly that it was time to check out
when you follow your path,” he said. “I met a man in Aspen
that I hit it off with right away. He had a home in Sedona,
a little cabin off Brewer Road down by the creek, and he said
I could stay there.”
It was 1987 when
Sterling came to Sedona. Driving down Oak Creek Canyon for
the first time, he told me “was like coming home” - a comment
you hear from many who move here.
His first stop
in town was Food Among the Flowers, the original vegetarian
restaurant in Sedona.
was very open and friendly. Sterling had never met people
like that. “I could definitely live here,” he thought.
He spent a few
days, climbing around on the red rocks and just knew he had
to come back. Once back in Aspen, he packed it up and moved.
For eight months
in the cabin in Aspen, Sterling was selling his work and developing
his technique. He made a lot of gifts and also a few commissioned
pieces. Even so, he was only able to work at it part-time.
Determined to be
a full-time artist, he came to Sedona, set up a studio and
began living his dream as a full-time stained glass artist.
“All of the sudden,
I was a Sedona artist. It was very cool.”
in the rocks almost daily, then went home to his studio and
created. He was very inspired by the red rocks and Sedona
He was never interested
in doing any realistic pieces like landscapes. He gravitated
more toward geometrical form and found it to be his natural
from intuition, Sterling was unaware of his use of Sacred
Geometry in his glass work until people began pointing it
out. Intrigued, he got a few books, but didn’t feel the need
to apply it any differently than he had already been.
Music is the same
for Sterling. He taps into the universal knowledge from his
intuition. He can’t read music, and doesn’t know the technology,
he just plays by feeling.
Geometry, you tap into the structure of the universe of creation,”
Sterling uses the
“golden mean” or the spiral, in his work. He likens this to
the way sea shells grow, or the way sound travels through
our inner ear. Flowers grow that way, too.
Many people use
his stained glass pieces for meditation. This was part of
the spiritual practice in monasteries as well. Focusing on
the mandalas would move them into heightened states of awareness.
Early Christians put stained glass in the windows of their
churches for similar reasons. Looking at their color and form
would heighten their awareness and make them feel closer to
environment is very simple. He uses a glass cutter, pair of
glass pliers, grinder and copper foil.
The copper foil
technique he uses was developed by Louis Tiffany (yes, Tiffany
lamps), back in late 1800’s.
Previous to that,
lead cane was used to adhere the glass pieces together. However,
you couldn’t do intricate patterns or use small pieces. Copper
foil tape allows for more pliable use of different shapes
and smaller sizes of glass. Tiffany’s designs were very intricate
so he developed the copper foil method as an alternative.
healing mandalas, which are free-hanging pieces, and also
has made permanent stained-glass windows for many healing
centers around town. His pieces have an angelic presence about
wakes up in the middle of the night, picks up his compass,
and the creativity and inspiration just starts flowing through
him. Many pieces have begun this way for him.
He uses crystals
and gemstones in all of his pieces – a trademark of his. Every
piece Sterling creates is like a jewel to him.
Most of his glasswork
is commissioned, but whenever he has free time, Sterling creates
a piece and soon after someone shows up to buy it.
I asked him how
he stays unattached to keeping any of them.
In 1992, Sterling
was initiated by the Dalai Lama in the Calatackra Tantra.
These are the sand-painting mandalas of the wheel of time.
They also work with the geometries. Sterling was deeply moved
by the way the monks would create magnificent sand paintings.
A few monks would
work on them for about four or five days. They would painstakingly
create these incredible mandalas and then just sweep them
away. Through this, Sterling learned non-attachment and the
impermanence of things. This has shown him that what he creates
is not really his, it is to pass on.
In the future,
Sterling would like to do more permanent installations and
larger pieces. Stained glass on ceilings is also very appealing
to him. He is completing his fifth musical recording, and
says that music and stained glass go very well together.
His master plan
is to have a beautiful home to display the glass and have
his sound studio there as well. He said he would love to
create this type of sacred environment in Sedona, the “homeland
of his soul,” for people to view and listen to both forms
Sterling is available
for commissioned pieces or you can check out what is available
at his studio.
You can check his
Web site for music and stained glass, at www.harpmagic.com
or call at (928) 282-4503.