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Thankful Thursday: the Legacy of John Gutierrez

photo courtesy Gutierrez family

A man who works with his hands is a laborer.
A man who works with his hands and his brain is a craftsman.
But a man who works with his hands, his brain, and his heart is an artist.

Last week, Baltimore lost a beloved artist, business colleague, mentor, and friend to many. John was the founder, chief visionary and soul of Gutierrez Studios. I first met John 20 years ago, when he was just starting out, but I got to know him better when I moved my office to the Clipper Mill complex, where his studio is located. John did a lot of the great metalwork and other custom architectural details around Clipper Mill. It was fun just to drop by his studio, see what they were up to, and be treated to one of his famous cups of espresso.

Many who knew him much better than I spoke at the celebration of his too-short life (he died at 45). It was held, fittingly, in the workshop, a 19th-century cathedral of industry, complete with a brightly-painted gantry crane. So many inspiring stories and memories were shared, and I want to capture a few that moved me the most.

John was a generous, loving, outgoing, bigger-than-life man who, better than anyone I know (except my own father), lived by the Toltec Four Agreements. Those are: be impeccable with your word; don’t take anything personally; never make assumptions; and always do your best. I’ve studied, memorized, and recited these daily for many months, but John is the one person I know who so beautifully lived those truths. He effortlessly embodied those Four Agreements, just going through his day, every day.

John always lovingly challenged people to be their best, not at all in a judgmental way. But he had a special vision; he could tell when someone was holding back, being unclear, waffling, or not living up to their potential. He held people in their power, and you could feel that in his presence.

Several of his friends and co-workers quoted their favorite “Guti-isms,” phrases that John always used, and usually with gusto. Spike Gjerde, owner of Woodbery Kitchen, itself a model of sustainability (he started the local food movement here in Baltimore), gave us this phrase. John said to him, “I’m a fabricator. But I’m also a fabric-lover.” That gives just a sense of his wonderful humor, and his tremendous self-knowledge.

Another gem: We’re the best. We’re expensive. But, we’re slow.

John also said, I’ve got the greenest business in the world. Our stuff is so beautiful, no one in their right mind would ever throw it away. And, if they did, someone else would just come and pull it out of the dumpster.

The last person to speak was one of his brothers, Glen. He left us with this lovely thought: There are two ways to shine. You can be light or you can reflect light. John was generous with all of us. He allowed us to reflect his light.