Creating Art From The Broken Shards In Life

For over 1,000 years stained glass art has been a part of the creative world. It is an art form that is like no other in the world; a decoration viewed in churches, restaurants, businesses and even some homes.  What is most interesting about stained glass is how it is used to convey a message or story. One such instance was its use in Medieval Times as visual accounts of Biblical stories for those commoners who could not read the Bible.  Another instance was one I was not expecting. It was when I met Richard Bohm, owner of Tulsa Stained Glass Company. This encounter would not be one of the art telling a story, but of the artist telling how art was to become his story.

Expecting a simple interview about the mechanics and theory of stained glassworks, I was surprised to learn about a man who stepped out on faith, suffered loss, found purpose and shared hope. Bohm initially embarked on his life path using the left side of his brain as his compass. In other words, he was using logic and mathematics in a profession to problem solve for others. It provided an income and a certain amount of stability, but as with most journeys in life, there was a curve up ahead that would lead him into an entirely new direction.

“My wife Carol took a class on stained glass art, and she showed me how to do it. It was fun! That was 42 years ago,” Bohm said. The couple began playing around with their new found hobby at home and soon began to realize that there was a market for quality stained glass. Initially, the business started in their dining room. Less than two years later, the couple moved to their first commercial location in Tulsa. The business grew as they created and sold what Bohm calls “widgets” (various pieces of stained glass art and sculptures). The growth continued as customers would order custom pieces or need repairs on existing works of stained glass. However, life would bring Bohm another curve. This time it was a sharp one that he did not see coming. After 28 years of struggling and operating the business together, Carol passed away. The art that had been his business, but now it needed to be something else…a therapist.

While dealing with his grief, Bohm began questioning if there was more to life. Although business was stable, there were always lean times and cash flow issues. With the passing of his wife, it was time to reflect and to heal. In his efforts to do so, he began taking the business aspect out of his business and replacing it with the art that had appealed to him all those years ago.  It’s what he calls “self-therapy.”

“I began to develop a passion for art, and that grew into self-therapy. And from this came my new passion of teaching others how to use art to solve problems, self-analyze and how to be happy,” Bohm said.  

He currently teaches two classes now at his store/studio located at 4131 S. Sheridan Road in Tulsa. The first is a beginner class where he teaches about the process and technique that has been in practice since the Middle Ages. Each student is given the same assignment which is designed by Bohm and focuses on the fundamentals of creating a pane of art such as a small window which can be hung for decoration. In this lesson, all of the pieces must touch and then be soldered together to become a solid panel. Classes are available on Thursday evenings several times each year for 2.5-hour sessions running for eight weeks.

The second is called Garden Spirit Sculptures class which is one session only but it is a “fun and intense” three-hour class. This class allows each student to choose their materials and create a design of their choosing. In this lesson, the pieces do not have to interlock. Thus it is called a sculpture.  He emphasizes that the purpose of these projects is to allow students to create something that “feels good to them.” This feeling allows the students to discover passion and use their life experiences to create something tangible while allowing the process to help them work through issues in their lives. These classes are available every Saturday.

What’s most interesting about Bohm is not that he was able to build a business out of an interesting hobby, but that he has been able to build an interest in helping others through his business with these therapeutic classes. There is an excitement in his every word when he describes how art therapy affects people’s lives. It has become a part of his identity; a self-sculpture of what his life has become.  Perhaps Bohm is onto something. People are always working to pick up the broken shards in their lives hoping to repair them. Bohm simply connects these people to those who have been putting the pieces together for over 1,000 years by soldering broken shards together to create something new, whole and beautiful.

To learn more about Bohm’s classes, visit his website TulsaStainedGlass.com. If you are interested in purchasing his book, Experience the Power of Art, they are available on Amazon and at his store.

C.L. Harmon is a freelance journalist, contributor to Tulsa Lifestyle Magazine and publisher for the online magazine Uniquelahoma.