Hardest job: etching slain son's image in glass

By Jameson Cook

The Macomb Daily

CHESTERFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) -- Bob Landry said he nearly lost his passion when Matthew "left."

Landry, 59, a glass-etching artist from Macomb County's Chesterfield Township, created thousands of glass and mirror works over 35 years. But after his youngest offspring was abducted and killed by a pair of Detroit teenagers in August 2009, he couldn't bring himself to touch a tool or piece of glass in his basement studio.

"I turned down jobs," he said. "I had no interest in doing it anymore."

But there was one client the artist couldn't refuse. Himself. He had an innate need to create a portrait of his deceased son, Matthew, 21.

Landry struggled with the work. It stirred emotions. He wanted perfection.

"It was the hardest mirror I ever did," he said recently in his home. "He's my son. I miss him dearly. I never thought I'd do my kid."

He transformed one of his favorite photos of Matthew, who posed with his girlfriend Francesca Bommarito, into a drawing that he could use to project the image onto a mirror. He etched the image using vinyl overlay.

"I made a couple attempts at it but I wasn't happy. I take a lot of pride in my work.

"I'd start, not like it, peel it (vinyl overlay) all off and start over again."

He eventually finished it.

The work hangs on the wall of the couple's living room next to the fireplace. It's one of his best, he said.

"I'm happy with it. For one thing, I did his eyes perfect. My wife (Doreen) compliments me on that. She says it looks as though he is looking right at us. I have it hung up so my lips are meeting his lips so I can go up there and kiss him any time I want."

Matthew, who had become a good etcher and artist in his own right, would be proud of his dad's work. Landry recalled Matthew as a young child helping him work. Landry projected images from Matthew's coloring books onto paper.

"I'd put Matt on the table with the picture enlarged and let him trace all his favorite pictures," Landry said. "When he was about 9 or 10 I showed him how to use X-Acto knives, which mom wasn't real happy about. But, yeah, Matthew was very good."

Matthew continued to show all types of artistic skills in his teenage years, including etching.

"He did a lot of mirrors," Landry said.

Matthew may not have followed in his dad's footsteps. Matthew loved rock music and was a drummer in a band.

But he never got the chance to pursue any career. Matthew died in August 2009. His body was found with a gunshot to his head in an abandoned home in Detroit four days after being abducted from outside a sandwich shop in Eastpointe. Ihab Maslamani, 19, and Robert Taylor, 18, both were convicted in the kidnapping, carjacking and murder. Maslamani was sentenced last month to life in prison without parole. Taylor is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 3 by Judge Diane Druzinski in Macomb County Circuit Court in Mount Clemens.

Landry mourns his son's death every day. He and Doreen each go to individual therapy with a counselor and group sessions with members of Compassionate Friends, an organization for bereaved parents.

"I don't know how much it helps me but I go and if I can help somebody else a little bit, then so be it," he said. "The pain never goes away, it just softens a little bit," he said.

To help ease the hurt, Landry is gradually returning to his passion, and decided he needs to return full throttle. "When I do something, I do it all the way," he said.

His decades of operating his business, Beyond This Glass, has included portraits of John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix and Jesus Christ, and all types of scenery, often fantasy.

He's reviving his business and has done some portraiture work, including depicting deceased people, which, he said, "I'm not too crazy about," although he is honored to help families memorialize their loved one like he has with his son.

The work is helping him achieve a new normal. One where Matthew resides as a special memory.

He is accepting jobs and has been hired by Take 2 Authentics in Mount Clemens, a sports framing and memorabilia store, to do etchings and carvings.

"We're going to offer it as a service in addition to our sports framing," said owner Bob Manning. "We're excited about it. It's something you can't get anywhere else. He'll do special orders and we're incorporating his etchings into some of our pieces."

Manning and Landry have been friends for about a decade, and Landry has worked off-and-on at the store in the past.

"We're doing it for him and for us," Manning said. "He's a super-talented individual."

Matthew was one of five children Bob and Doreen raised in Roseville before moving to Chesterfield Township six years ago.

Landry in the 1980s and 1990s taught glass etching in hobby classes for the Big 3, many municipalities and Macomb Community College, he said. That faded away in the late 1990s as interest in the craft waned.

In fall 2001, he created 18 etchings in honor of firefighters on 9-11. Most of them went to Macomb County fire halls, and two were sent to the New York Fire Department that, he has been told, are still on display. One depicted firefighters raising the American flag at ground zero and one showed two angels praying at a firefighter's knees. They were signed by hundreds of Macomb firefighters.

A father's love, a craftsman's passion will live on.

Published: Thu, Jan 27, 2011