Randy Robbins, Pilot staff writer

High on a hilltop with panoramic vistas of Gold Beach, which has been her town for 26 years, is the home of Lonni Munson, where the solitude of flower gardens gives her the motivation to make beautiful things.

It wasn't always that way.

"(I was) diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer, divorced within a month, my dad and grandmother dying during my chemotherapy almost seven years ago."

Yet, she says, "I have so much to be thankful for."

Munson is a survivor, and from her perspective, every day of her 59 years is a gift. So she seeks out simple treasures where ever they may be found.

Munson's specialty as an artist is creating miniature doll houses that she either builds or refurbishes.

What sets her houses apart from others' is that Munson's creations are not only built to scale, are populated with porcelain dolls, and they boast real stained glass windows for each and every window.

Munson has spent hundreds of hours in "solitary pursuits," as she refers to them, to make it all work by methodically repeating the same process.

A process goes like this, she said: "Draw picture, number each piece, cut glass, wrap each piece with lead or copper foil, solder both sides, wash, touch up, wash, patina, wash ... frame. Repeat." To deviate from the formula is not an option, she said.

In addition to doll houses, Munson creates stained glass inserts for everything from wall frames to Tiffany-style lamp shades to oak kitchen cabinets.

Different colored glass is cut into shards, giving birth to tree-branch-sitting cardinals, blooms, butterflies, and bluebirds tending their nests. At other times the cabinet glass in one of Munson's works might be devoid of any color, instead yielding to crystal clear beveled glass graced with attractive metal diamond patterned inlays, such as the custom cabinet covers Munson created for her mother.

Support system

Munson is quick to point out that she and other artists typically can't do what they do without "a support system" of others in their lives. These are the people who sacrifice their own time and talents, often putting their lives on the back burner to accommodate and free up the artist to be able to create the works they do.

"I don't think the people behind the artists get enough credit," Munson said. "It would be difficult to do what we do without them."

For Lonni that person is Dale Munson, her deceased husband's brother, whom she affectionately describes as "Still my best friend and facilitator." She is thankful for Dale's unswerving commitment to her life's work.

"He is almost 80 and sweetly, quietly, kindly, took up helping me to realize my (artist) dreams only after he retired from being a supervisor at the Champion (plywood mill)," Lonni said.

"If I needed something for a project like kitchen cabinets, Dale bought oak boards and went to work in his shop, the old garage, making the upper and lower cabinets with drawers and hidden compartments."

She said she appreciates Dale's dedication. "Those (cabinets) took months and are such fine quality. (Dale) is an artist in his own right."

Lonni is a collector as well. A vast porcelain doll and antique shoe portfolio initially came to her by way of her grandmother, mother and sister. But Munson has continued to add to both over the years.

Once again, Lonni said, Dale came to the rescue, furnishing "a huge shadow box" to display over a hundred pairs of hard-to-find footwear.

Munson's work has caught the attention of others beyond Curry County, as well.

A large, four-sided stained glass canopied overhead light cover with 4-foot frames for a pool table was commissioned of the artist for a Florida resident. The Munson original features a seafaring theme replete with tall ships with bearded, rain-gear clad navigators found braving wild seas while gripping a large wooden pilot wheel.

"It was solid oak and Dale included the wiring and fluorescent bulb so the piece was ready to hang when it got to Florida," Munson said. "And it got there all the way from the West Coast to the East Coast in one piece!"

The New Year for Lonni has her engaged in three new projects: a stained glass creation for a business window, a series of human hands symbolizing service in the Spirit of God titled "Human Hands," and the one she said she is most excited about - a series of 12 angels, all in different colors; she will adapt the drawings into a series of children's books. In addition, she hopes to display her work this year at the Biscuit building in Gold Beach.

Why does Lonni create art?

She ponders the question and responds this way.

"I just keep creating things - not seeking anything - but finding that feeling that bubbles in my heart called joy."