Cottage Grove stained-glass artist is leaving his legacy throughout the world
By Craig Reed
Both as a teacher and a creator, Clinton Conley has turned his art talent into a lifelong passion and livelihood.
He taught art classes for 40 years at the high school level and for adult education. He also sketches with a pencil, paints watercolor and acrylic scenes with a brush, and brings bright light inside special places through stained-glass windows.
“Art is my life. I love it,” he says while standing in his studio a few steps behind his home in the Cottage Grove area. “God gives us all a special talent. Art is the one I’ve been given.”
As an art student and then an art teacher, Clinton tried many mediums. He discovered stained glass and quickly developed a love for it.
“Of the different mediums, I found the most permanent was stained glass,” he says. “Stained glass is always changing with the way the sun comes through it. You can’t get that out of oil painting or watercolor.
“Glass to me has personality. It changes with the sun, clouds, as the weather changes. To see God’s sunlight through the glass brightens up life.”
Clinton’s neat, organized studio features his work through the years. There are prints, photos, and paintings on the walls, on the worktables, and in pullout racks underneath.
In recent months, his biggest print is of Jesus Christ and is the template for the scene that will grace the top of an arched stained-glass window for a church in Brookings. That window is expected to be finished and installed in the next couple of months.
Creating stained-glass windows has become a niche activity for artists, Clinton says. He and his business partner, Monte Church, are two of a few artists in the U.S. who still create with stained glass.
Although Clinton is 84 and Monte is 80, they have no thoughts about retiring from their glass projects. The two have been working as a team the past 17 years.
Monte was intrigued by Clinton’s stained-glass work, and Clinton was impressed with Monte’s art.
“He said, ‘You need to learn to do this,’” Monte says of Clinton and stained-glass art.
Clinton had retired as a classroom teacher, but became Monte’s studio teacher. He gave Monte his glass machinery. With Monte taking the business lead, the partners established Church Glassworks Inc.
Clinton sketches options for stained-glass projects. After one is selected, Monte cuts the design into glass at his art studio in Boring.
“Clinton is a genuine artist,” Monte says. “He sees everything through artist eyes. It’s fun to travel with him because he points out the colors in trees, the color of mountains, the color of animals, the visual things that people miss.
“He’s one of the very best with stained glass in the United States. The reality of his stained-glass art is that it tells stories. There’s no trouble understanding the message the window is trying to get across.”
Clinton got his art start by doing murals with chalk while in high school and college. After graduating from high school in 1950, he earned an art degree and then a Master of Fine Arts from Pacific Union College in California’s Napa Valley.
“My mother encouraged me to do large murals in chalk for the changing seasons,” Clinton says of his early creativity. He began his teaching career at Rio Lindo Academy—a private school in Healdsburg, California.
Clinton not only created murals but spearheaded the landscaping around the academy’s campus.
He soon learned about stained-glass art. After gaining confidence in designing and creating with glass, he established Real Glass Works in partnership with the academy. He taught his students, and together they worked on contracted stained-glass projects.
After moving to Weslaco, Texas, Clinton set up the same kind of partnership with Valley Grande Academy—another private high school, where he had accepted an art teaching position. He started Creative Glass Design and taught and worked with students on stained-glass projects.
In 1995, Clinton and his wife, Lavonne, moved to southwestern Oregon to be closer to their two grown daughters.
Clinton considered retirement, but he and Monte had become good friends while working on art projects—Monte as an administrator for church building projects and Clinton as a stained-glass artist.
They soon became business partners.
“Clinton did the artwork, and I would build the windows from his designs,” Monte says. “He likes that I handle the business end of things, the hands-on building of the windows. He enjoys being free to be the artist. Without his artwork, nothing would get done.”
Clinton’s stained-glass windows have been shipped to and installed in about 15 states and Africa, Mexico, Canada, Nepal and Puerto Rico. Most of the windows are in churches, but some are in hospitals and private homes.
Lavonne says her husband of 61 years is passionate about his artwork.
“He’s a spiritual person,” she says. “He likes to create glass for people to inspire them, to direct their thinking toward spiritual things. He wants to glorify God, to bring people’s thoughts toward God.”
Clinton and Monte say they are still having fun as artists despite being in their 80s, so no ending is in sight.
“What I do is fun so it’s not a burden,” Clinton says. Monte describes the stained-glass windows as a way to leave a legacy.
“These windows will last longer than the buildings,” he says. “What we do is not work for us. It’s fun.”