By Jan Pudlow
John Charles Coleman has found a creative way to brainstorm and prepare for trial.
He ambles over to his backyard workshop, where an orange cat curls at his feet and the birds chirp high above, while he meticulously cuts stained glass, and glues them on a wooden canvas, turning them into art that he displays in frames he crafts by hand with upwards of 40 pieces of wood.
Pausing to jot down lists of questions for an upcoming deposition or cross-examination at trial, he then goes back to gluing pieces of glass into intricate landscapes, flowers, and geometric designs.
“I’m reflecting on the day; I am preparing for the next; and in the process I am creating something that I can appreciate later,” says 62-year-old Coleman, who has been practicing law for three decades with his brother Robert at Coleman and Coleman in Ft. Myers.
As a trial lawyer, Coleman spends his office hours dealing with conflict, high emotions, and sometimes difficult personalities.
“In our business, we work and work and don’t have anything to show for it but a pile of paper,” he says.
“But at the end of an evening, I can create a mountain or a waterfall and see the results of the effort I have made.”
The oldest of eight children, Coleman knew he wanted to be a lawyer in the sixth grade, inspired by Gregory Peck playing Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
But just below his lawyerly surface, creative juices flow.
While an undergrad student at Notre Dame, Coleman “threw paint around on a canvas like Jackson Pollock,” and his roommate helped him haul the painting up to their dorm room to dry.
“The oil fumes and heat created quite an odor. I almost asphyxiated my wonderful roommate,” Coleman recalls with a laugh.
Art took a backseat to law school at the University of Miami and raising a family and running a law practice. Until 1988, when his wife, Patsy Lynn, took a class in stained glass, and together they made stained-glass lamp shades and outdoor tables. A decade later, Coleman began creating his stained glass “paintings,” as he calls them.
“Blue Hawaii,” created during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in 2011, made its way to Coleman’s office on McGregor Boulevard.
“A client came in and sat down and said, ‘I’ll give you $5,000 for it.’ I still have it,” Coleman said. “They are my babies. I made them not for the purpose of selling them, but to enjoy them. They are stacking up.”
His wife says he should consider letting some of his stained-glass creations grace the offices and homes of others.
In July, Coleman was part of an art show involving eight lawyers at the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center on First Street in downtown Ft. Myers, in the old building that used to be the federal courthouse and post office.
Sunshine gleamed through his stained-glass vases lining the windowsills of what once was the clerk’s office.
Fitting for a trial lawyer with an artistic streak, Coleman’s stained-glass paintings hung in the same building where he has tried many cases through the years.
For more information on Coleman’s creative process and to see a digital archive of his artwork, go to www.johncolemanstainedglass.com.