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The 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 is non-attachment.

His fascination 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.

One particular 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.

Sterling believes 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 helper.”

“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 for him.

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.”

Completely respecting 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 it.”

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 Sedona.

“Syncronicity happens 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.

Everyone there 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.”

Sterling played in the rocks almost daily, then went home to his studio and created. He was very inspired by the red rocks and Sedona in general.

He was never interested in doing any realistic pieces like landscapes. He gravitated more toward geometrical form and found it to be his natural expression.

Working purely 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.

“Through Sacred Geometry, you tap into the structure of the universe of creation,” he said.

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 God.

Sterling’s working 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.

Sterling creates 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 them.

Sterling often 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 of art.

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.

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