By Andra Bryan Stefanoni
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
In 10 minutes at Steve Maddox’s house on North Black Cat Road, his Renaissance-like character is revealed.
A handcrafted lamp made from a tuba illuminates his patio table; glass doors etched with intricate western scenes are propped in his living room; half a dozen guitars hang in a spare bedroom-turned-art studio; and red clay dirt fills the back of his pickup truck.
“I’m going to sift it to make my own clay,” he said. “I’ve never done a sculpture before.”
A 1974 graduate of Carl Junction High School and a Navy veteran, Maddox might have gone into art as a vocation were it not for the dislike his art teacher had of his desire to sketch what interested him: guns, at the time, instead of “pretty landscapes, and stuff like that.”
Instead, he is a project representative for Allgeier, Martin and Associates Inc., a consulting firm that provides electrical power and civil engineering and surveying.
He’s also a Harley rider, a guitar player in the band at Fir Road Christian Church, a Civil War history buff with ancestors who fought with William Quantrill, and a newspaper clipping from his high school days indicates he was an award-winning hurdler. But after his workday, he fills his life with creativity in whatever way strikes his fancy at the moment.
One of his latest passions is glass etching. Using a Dremel, a hand-held rotary tool with a bit, he can etch just about anything ÑÊa glass plate celebrating the birth of a friend’s newborn daughter, toasting glasses for a buddy’s wedding, glass vases he finds at flea markets, or old doors with glass windows.
“They were tearing down this old building in Lockwood and it had beautiful doors. When I asked about them, (the person in charge) said, ‘Get ‘em out of here,’ so we just grabbed a screwdriver and went to town.”
He prefers to leave the doors rustic, peeling paint and all, to offset the elegance and detail of the scenes he etches.
One such scene he calls “Four Deer” features two bucks and two does near a lake. Another, “The Honeymoon,” depicts a log cabin with two saddled horses outside at the foot of Colorado mountains.
“I like the western look,” said Maddox, dressed in a black cowboy hat, black blazer, jeans and boots.
Glass etching is a complicated and tedious process, he said, that begins with a line drawing, which he then traces onto the glass with black marker.
“When I do this, I’m thinking in my mind about color,” he said. “I want this area to look brown, or white, or whatever, so the texture has to replace the color.”
He’s spent as many as 80 hours on one piece.
Another of his artistic passions, creating pen-and-ink illustrations of architecture, is just as tedious. A line drawing of Melin’s Grocery, located at 611 W. 20th St. until it was torn down in the 1980s when the street was widened, includes bricks smaller than a pencil eraser. A line drawing of the Jasper County Courthouse includes a tiny clock showing the time when Maddox finished the illustration.
“I’m a real detail type of guy,” he said. “If there’s a clock in one of my works, I always put what time I finished it.”
Maddox, 56, has no formal art training.
“My mom remembers me laying in front of TV drawing Mickey Mouse. She encouraged my art, and dad was a mechanic.”
His dad, Art Maddox, also a former Carl Junction mayor, still has a painting on his wall that Maddox did at age 12. Now, the younger Maddox is passing on his love of art to his six grandchildren, ages 4 to 15, who call him “Pa.” He outfitted one corner of his studio with a drafting board and drawing supplies especially for them.
Maddox toys with the idea of making his passion into his next career after he retires.
“That’s what I would like to do, I think,” he said. “A friend did, but it took 10 years to be able to go into and make a living.”
He’s also shown his work at All Things Grand and the Joplin Public Library, and aspires to show his work in a gallery in Booneville, Mo.
For the moment, though, his art mainly serves to fulfill requests by friends and as holiday presents for family.
Among them: An 18-by-24-inch pastel and acrylic of a P-51 Mustang piloted by Lt. B.J. Mayer, 10th Air Force, 2nd Air Command Group; a T-shirt honoring three who perished in the Joplin Wal-Mart during the tornado on May 22; a detailed family tree in calligraphy; and a few hundred glass mugs for his wife’s siblings’ class reunions in Mulvane, Kan.
Once a project is on his mind, he said, it’s hard to let it go until he completes it. His wife, Marilyn, knows if he’s creating to just let him be.
“I put on wild bluegrass, put on my homemade headphones, and let ’er rip.”