The Stained Glass of
Larry Gehbauer

by Barney Quick
photo by Barney Quick

Brown County’s artists span the range of motives for creating their works. Some bask in the nationwide recognition of jurists, collectors, and curators. Some wish to preserve crafts and methods of bygone eras. Some mainly wish to please themselves and, in the process, see if others share their delight.

Stained-glass artist Larry Gehbauer falls into this last category. His work, now being shown at Franco Marie’s Italian Restaurant in Nashville, and Elan Styling Salon and Well-Being Center in Columbus, is beginning to garner attention, but his greatest satisfaction still comes from having met his own aesthetic standards.

“I’m willing to get halfway through a project and start over,” he says. “Quite simply, I make things I like.”

He concedes that this approach may have slowed his entry into the marketplace. “Sometimes I get done with pieces and decide I don’t want to get rid of them.”

Gehbauer has done some commission work and would take on more “as long as the client wasn’t in a hurry.”

He has always liked art, but didn’t become a practitioner until the last few years. After a career as a sheet-metal worker, he and his wife Karen moved to Brown County from Indianapolis and settled in the Hilltop neighborhood south of Nashville. They quickly incorporated visits to area galleries into their lifestyle.

His first foray into making art was watercolor, but, according to Gehbauer, “I couldn’t get passionate about it.”

He took four lessons from stained-glass artist and sawmill operator Mike Knight and felt he’d found his medium. “It’s a form that involves a lot of working with one’s hands, which I’ve always done,” says Gehbauer. “I can tell Karen, ‘I’m going to spend fifteen minutes in my studio’ and be out there for three hours. I just get lost.”

His subject matter ranges from landscapes and smaller natural images such as birds and flowers to strikingly composed abstracts to sports and holiday imagery. He particularly relishes the large pieces that occupy much of a wall, but enjoys making suncatchers from the resulting scrap as well.

The stray pieces of glass left from completed work are a primary source of inspiration. It becomes a process of elimination to see what kinds of images they can transform themselves into, according to Gehbauer.

The collection of Gehbauer’s work on display at Franco Marie’s features an example of his Little Confederate General series. Another from this series hangs in the main entrance to his high school in Pineville, Louisiana, whose athletic teams are called The Rebels. “Karen and I stopped in a Jackson, Tennessee gift shop,” recalls Gehbauer. “That little general was on a lamp shade. The owner gave me some tracing paper and a pencil and I sketched it out.”

He has also done stained-glass renderings of Kokopelli, a fertility-god figure common to several ancient American Southwest cultures and a frequent subject for artists in several media.

Gehbauer is able to get all his supplies locally at A Glass Menagerie in Nashville. “It’s quite an investment,” he explains. “You need an array of tools as well as grinders and, of course, glass. The Glass Menagerie can get me pretty much any color of glass I need.”

His creative outlets are generally of the hands-on variety. He is the cook of the household, which suits his wife fine. In addition to preparing daily meals, he is known in their family for his holiday feasts which consume all the counter space in his kitchen, as well as the day before the celebration. He also enjoys landscaping, calling his property “a work in progress for the next twenty years.”

Two brain surgeries in recent years haven’t affected his focus, strength, or energy. “I had a tumor that grew back after one operation,” he says, “but after I recovered from the second one, I was back doing all the things I enjoy.”

This low-key means of dealing with life extends to his view of his art. He has no hankering for mass adulation or lofty art-world credentials. “I could be more aggressive about marketing my work,” he says, “but my own satisfaction is really reward enough.” Gehbauer can be contacted at (812) 988-4429.