Picture an artist’s home — maybe a warehouse-style loft in the urban core?
Artist Bob Calton used to live like that, in a rented studio in St. Paul. But his rent kept rising, so he decided to buy a condo in West St. Paul and create his own live-work space.
“Moving here gave me a $300 a month pay raise,” he said.
The downside was that his all-white condo in a 1970s-era building didn’t have much character or personality. “It was very vanilla,” he said.
So Calton began adding flavor — not merely “decorating,” but using his plain-white surfaces as a blank canvas for creating art.
“I consider this an installation,” he said of his 1,250-square-foot condo.
He painted murals, including a mountainous landscape that covers an entire wall — with human faces hidden in the topography.
“It’s a test!” he said with a laugh, challenging visitors to see how many faces they could spot. (There are 23, for the record, and, no, we couldn’t find them all without Calton’s help.)
“I like the illusory part of painting,” Calton said. The mural is an example of pareidolia, a Latin word for seeing faces in the natural world. “I wanted a mysterious sense.”
Also adding mystery and drama to Calton’s home is the abundance of richly colored stained glass. A pair of 8-foot, restored 125-year-old church windows hang horizontally in his entry.
“There were in a guy’s basement, and he said, ‘Why don’t you take ’em?’ ” Calton explained. Some had cracks and needed releading. So Calton repaired them, built a box to hold them, then added electrical outlets and 3-foot fluorescent fixtures, so the windows could be spectacularly backlit.
His kitchen light fixture is a standard globe, covered with stained-glass scraps that he glued in place. “It was heading for the garbage; then I had another epiphany,” he said.
Even some of his furniture is enhanced with stained glass, such as a light-up coffee table he made with glowing planets and stars.
Calton has worked in many media, but stained glass is his passion. He fell in love with stained-glass windows as a child — “the first time I saw light coming through colored glass,” he said. “You can see in church how dramatic those windows are!”
More than 30 years ago, he started learning how to work with glass himself. Calton was building a home on the North Shore and thought it would be cool to include some stained-glass windows. So he came down to Minneapolis to take a class, then continued to give himself hands-on education.
“I’m mostly self-taught,” he said. “I would putter with it over the years,” first in his spare time during his advertising career, when he worked as a graphic designer and art director, and later as a full-time artisan. “I have made my living doing some kind of art all my life,” he said.
Calton’s initial glass creations were smaller “gifty stuff” that he sold at art fairs, such as his series of decorative glass lamps with fanciful faces — several of which gaze down from a shelf in his condo.
In recent years, he has concentrated on the design and creation of stained-glass windows, primarily for private homes. (He’ll have a booth at next month’s Home & Garden Show at the Minneapolis Convention Center; roberttcalton.com).
Calton’s windows range from traditional patterns and motifs to abstract modern takes, designed and created in his home.
His dinette is his “conceptual space,” equipped with a drawing table, where he dreams up and refines his designs. His office is where he cuts, fits and solders the glass. He also has a kiln in his kitchen for firing glass painted with vitreous paint (a mixture of ground glass and pigment).
“I made one like this for a customer,” he said, pointing to one gemstone-bright window displayed in his condo. “I liked it so much, I made one for myself.”
Other Calton creations in his home include his “willow women” floor lamps, made from golden willow sticks with glowing glass faces, and his fantastical chairs fashioned from slender birch branches.
“From my twig period,” he said. “I thought I was going to be a twig furniture maker.” But his creations were more delicate than they were durable. “I was afraid people would sit on them, and they’d fall apart.” He didn’t feel comfortable selling them as usable chairs, so he kept them.
At this point, after almost four years in his home, it looks like a fully realized artistic expression. So does he consider it a completed work?
“Guys like me are never done,” he said. But his next DIY project may be more practical than poetic. “What to do next is probably some regular improvements — like countertops.”