The magical Lizard Queen

Artist creates an illusion with each piece of stained glass

— Leaning against the wall of Paul Rutledge's studio is a panel of bright blue glass. The blue dye in the glass seems to flow over the surface like a thick liquid, and out of it a pattern emerges like the outline of Horus, the Egyptian god with a falcon head, seated on his throne.

But to Rutledge, an Oak Creek stained glass artist, the image is of a woman who he calls Lizard Queen. He found her in the bin at a wholesaler and knew he had to buy her.

Rutledge leaves her there by the door to watch him work at grinding and cutting glass.

He looks up at the blue form sometimes wondering what will become of her.

That's how most of his favorite pieces come into being, he said.

"I see something in the glass and I figure out a way to build around it," he said. "There is magic in glass.

"With each piece, I am creating an illusion," he said. "The eye wants to see those illusions. It just needs a little help."

He lifts a piece of his work to the light.

A beam shoots through the center of a circle that looks as liquid as the blood and water mix found inside a newly fertilized egg. He built "Oophytai" around that red flowing piece of glass.

"It took me six months to draw this pattern," he said. "Every line in this, I've erased and redrawn a hundred times."

Rutledge is probably most well known in Routt County for his large stained glass window by the pool in the Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Center. The window portrays the pool itself with echinacea flowers large in the foreground.

Rutledge bartered the piece in exchange for his membership dues.

"It took two years from inception to finish," he said. "This is a good example of very difficult work."

Rutledge makes most of his living from similar commissions -- flowers, scenic vistas, decorative panels for doors and windows -- but it is his personal work, the often abstract pieces, that make him glow when he talks.

"When you do a really great piece," he said, "it hits you in the heart."

He describes "Stella Blue" as if it is a woman that he courted for years before she finally came into his studio.

The piece is a figure eight of floating lines surrounded by thin brown strands, like a woman's long hair laying on the surface of water.

He originally drew "her" vertically, but once he finished, he hung the piece horizontally.

"She told me to hang her that way," he said.

Then his attention moves to another piece with a similar design of floating lines, but built with darker colors.

"This gal here is a temptress," Rutledge said. He called the piece "Eve and the serpent." "The blue current represents the homemaker side of her and the red current is her passionate side."

But Rutledge's favorite piece, called "Ecce" (Behold), is of a glowing egg held high in the palm of a red hand, as if the holder is looking into it for the future.

He priced it at $37,000, because he loves it and it can't go to just anyone.

"The person that it was made for exists," he said. "They just have to find me."

Rutledge grew up in Wichita, Kan., and learned the art of stained glass there.

"I don't have an art background and I never did this as a hobby," Rutledge said. "I started doing stained glass because I took a job at a glass shop. Then I discovered that I had a talent. They told me that they had never seen anyone learn it faster."

That was 26 years ago, and he has been doing it professionally ever since.

"I've been lucky to always make a living at what I love to do," he said.

At the Kansas shop, Rutledge learned to make stained glass windows the church style, using alloy to fill the seams between the glass pieces.

"I don't use foil, because I like clean lines. With foil, your lines are always irregular," he said.

Rutledge left Kansas for Colorado in the mid-'80s, "following a rich girlfriend," he said.

Most recently, Rutledge has been experimenting with black glass -- building night scenes lit only by the clear glowing glass of rivers, waterfalls and the moon.

"I'm fascinated by the reflective quality of the glass," he said.

Rutledge has never done much advertising, he said. His studio is located on Main Street in Oak Creek next to the Elk Tavern. His work hangs in the windows and he shows it occasionally at local restaurants, but people still manage to find him.

"My work comes from strange places," he said.

Rutledge's New Victoria Stained Glass Studio is located at 109 East Main St. in Oak Creek.

He can be reached at 736-8322. His work can also be viewed at www.rockymountainfun.com.

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