CATEGORY: Tupelo Stories
HED:Tupelo man opens colorful windows to the world
By Eileen Bailey
Earnest G. Lothorp's stained glass creations come together like pieces of a puzzle.
For the last 17 years, Lothorp and his wife, Irene, have been spending their golden years bringing multicolored light into the lives of Northeast Mississippi residents.
"We had to have something to do," Lothorp said of their retirement. "We had to have a reason to get up in the morning."
The 76-year-old Tupelo resident said they first retired with the intention of making copper lanterns. They made a few and, to be different, they began to put stained glass windows in them.
From that point on, Lothorp said the copper lanterns went by the wayside and full-time work with stained glass windows began.
But the spark for stained glass windows goes back to a time when Lothorp was about 15. In April 1936, many Tupelo churches lost their stained glass windows when a deadly tornado swept through town.
"There was no one in town to fix them," he said. Repair came from out of town. He said he thought it would be interesting to repair the windows.
But creativity was part of Lothorp's life before he retired. He owned a sign business for many years in Tupelo that he said helped him recognize what colors go well together and learn about other design elements.
Lothorp's shop is a reflection of his organizational skills. Hammers and other tools hang in a line on the wall. Cabinets hold finished pieces and pieces of colored glass to be used on future pieces.
Two work tables hold center court in the one-room shop. Ceiling fans create just enough breeze to move smaller stained glass pieces hanging from the ceiling.
He said in his former business a "dirty shop is a dangerous shop" so he strives to keep his current shop clean with everything in its place.
In the front of his shop, called "The Dog House," is Lothorp's first creation - a flower highlighted with orange, blue and green. Also hanging in the shop is a window commissioned for someone else who changed his mind about owning it. This large panel features a mallard duck flying over blue water.
Up until heart problems began to plague Lothorp, he worked on numerous projects each week. Now he has cut back to about two pieces a week.
Congregations in several Northeast Mississippi churches view Lothorp's work each week during Sunday services. The last church Lothorp made windows for was the Church of God on Briar Ridge Road in Tupelo.
Lothorp's works also be found in his own church, Wesley United Methodist Church, and in his home.
Each piece Lothorp creates is inspired by the buyer.
"I have done magnolias until they were coming out of my ears," he said with a laugh. Lothorp even has several stained glass pieces completed - including ones with magnolias - for contractors who want to have one of his creations in a new home.
Once the customer gives Lothorp the idea, he comes up with a design. The customer then comes back to approve the design, size and colors.
For a recent piece, Lothorp said the design came to him at 2 a.m.
"I went back to sleep, got up the next morning and designed it," he said. The result was a large red rose flanked by two smaller roses surrounded in pink and clear glass.
Once a design is chosen, he draws it on a sheet of brown paper. It's then divided into sections with each section receiving a number.
After making a copy, Lothorp then cuts out each individual piece of the window, numbering it as well.
The cutouts are then used as a pattern. A special pair of scissors is used to allow for the lead spacing, which is used to support the glass.
If the piece of glass isn't cut just right, Lothorp uses a grinder to get it down to size.
Starting with the outer edges, Lothorp works his way through the piece, placing the glass down, then the lead.
When he first started making stained glass windows, Lothorp decided to use lead instead of more modern spacers.
Lead is more expensive to use than the copper foil used by many stained glass creators today, he said. Copper foil was introduced by Louis C. Tiffany, who created many stained glass pieces that now hang in museums. Many of the older churches, Lothorp said, used lead for their windows.
Making stained glass windows can be a physically demanding job, especially on the hands.
Lothorp's long, large fingers are calloused after years of using a glass cutter.
"I buy Band-Aids 200 at a time in the 3/4-inch and 1-inch sizes," he said.
Throughout the last 17 years, Lothorp has created many pieces, from as large as a 3-by-5 bathroom window for a home in Booneville to as small as a stained glass panel that hangs in a window. Each has its own story and a place in his heart.
"I haven't built many pieces I didn't love," he said.
For more information about Earnest G. Lothorp's stained glass creations, which sell for about $40 to $60 per square foot, call 842-6576.