Sunday, March 16, 2014

Stained Glass and Grandma

In loving memory of Irene Regina O’Meara Jansen, 
my maternal grandmother and godmother

A Deep and Dark December
It was winter break from Seward, Nebraska’s Concordia University. A heavy question weighed on my mind; but I decided to give it a rest, trusting that correct guidance would be given to me, and humbly praying for the proper attitudes I sadly realized I lacked during the previous semester.

At home, on the day before Christmas, when I usually decorated, I opened a box of Christmas ornaments and such, and found the previous year’s greeting cards that were received. They were tied together in the usual stash “look” kept each year in case I wanted to cut them up the next year and make gift tags and such. I first thought, “Toss”; but then, even though I had enough gift tags at that moment, I felt it right to placed them on the buffet and look at them later. I turned to deck the halls, without one thought of the heavy question to bother me.

The Prior Semester
It all started in the prior semester. I completed stained glass designs for a final project in my Two-Dimensional Design class. The project came from a church in Lincoln, the State Capital.

Members of the church wanted stained glass installed in eight rectangular windows, four on each side of the altar, in memory of a recently-departed family member. The church project committee sent information to the university in search of a student interested in creating designs for the 110-total-square foot stained glass memorial; and, if accepted, the designs would be given to a commercial company for construction. 

The thought of designing stained glass was interesting, but I never tried it. Then I reasoned, “It’s straight-forward pencil drawing, and it’s a golden opportunity to learn stained glass design. What could possibly go wrong?” So I went for it, and got it.

Minutes after the professor gave me the project information, I was reading it. The name of the church was Good Shepherd, and naturally, the 23rd Psalm came to mind. I hurried home, took out the sturdy 5-by-9 cardboard  mock ups from my project envelope, and began an adventure in drawing on them that would end up taking nearly every day of the semester to complete, and with weekly project critique from the professor.

The 23rd Pslam 
I decided to design for the copper foil method, or “Tiffany-style”, because the 23rd Psalm brought images of pastures and water and a path, designed in smaller pieces of glass.

Green pastures went on the mock up panel that matched the actual panel to the immediate left of the altar, and from the horizon down, small, red oval drawings were placed here and there in the pasture to represent the good fruit. 

Gently flowing aqua-blue water went on the other mock up that matched the real panel  immediately right of the alter, also from the horizon down. In the top half of pasture panel, blue skies with wispy-clouds went in. In the equivalent space on the water panel, in a huge semi-circle sun, across the top of the panel made it in. 

Across the foregrounds, and horizontally, a grassy high point overlooks the pastures and water, creating panoramic views. I threw a handful of reeds in the water panel near the edge of the overlook, and an equal number of saplings in the pasture panel near the edge of that overlook. 

Each end panel, from the horizon up, was left in white, to distinguish, symbolically, past and  future time periods in contrast to the “eternal now” feeling in the pasture and water panels. The white  expressed the feeling of solid cloud cover, the strong contrast desired. Far-off on the horizon, mountains went in all but the water panel, as well as wind-swept sands of time, with increasing sands flowing in from the far left horizon line in the left panel, and the sands receding towards the far right horizon line in the final panel. This design theme was a symbolic expression of the Alpha and the Omega (the Beginning and the End). 

Pleased, Then Not Pleased
I was very pleased with my design when “my completion” day came around in mid November. I felt satisfied that I had what it takes. My next meeting with the professor was schedule three days from then. I placed the mock ups in the desk drawer, looking forward to using the freed up time for Thanksgiving preparations

The morning of the meeting, I got the designs from my desk drawer just 30 minutes before the meeting. I looked at them, and was horrified!  I thought, “How can abundant, green pastures, sun-kissed water, distant mountains, endless sky, panorama views and the sands of time look like a land that time forgot?”

I had to come to grips immediately with the need to look at them again. I had to leave for the meeting in the art building, and I only had around five minutes to figure out why the design felt empty, or I would have to ask the professor if he thinks something missing. Nothing came to me. I left for the art building .

The professor liked how the design had progressed. I was relieved. I figured it was all me. But just the same, I asked him if he thought it looked abandoned. He said, “That’s because it’s a simple landscape” and added “You can still add on if you want.”

I couldn’t completely shake off the feeling. This usually meant, it’s time to pay attention. With each passing week, I grew more dissatisfied; but not because I wanted my designs chosen, although it would’ve been encouraging, at that point, to know the decision-makers liked minimal concepts in art. But even the design’s acceptance wouldn’t changed the problem I saw. And it didn’t help that I felt I hadn’t lived up to the best I could do.

Percival and the Holy Grail 
A couple of weeks before the end of the semester, as I was browsing around the public library in the fiction shelves, hoping to God I could dig up ideas for spin-offs that might help fill in the gaps, I spotted the legend of Percival, of King Arthur’s Round Table, and this youngest knight’s legendary quest for the Holy Grail, and checked it out.

Reading this adventure of the lost chalice, or cup, of the Last Supper that Percival ‘discovered’, and that consequently brought the kingdom back to life from severe drought, garnered a wealth of pertinent symbolic ideas, not the least of which was the dogged perseverance of Percival that was needed to fill in my own ‘gaps’. I couldn’t thank God enough directing my eyes toward that book and for giving me the strong inclination to take it home.

After reading it from cover-to-cover, I returned to the mock ups, and in the right portion of the water panel, I envisioned four mountains, representing the stages of life, and receding to the horizon, with a journeying path extended over the visible surfaces of the mountains, all the way to the fourth one. I was back to drawing again with renewed hope and lots more trust in God. 

The image of a chalice and its stem, was drawn in the last mountain of life, charcoal in color, and the stem symbolized “the narrow gate”. Next, I drew in a white semi-circle centered over the chalice, like the Eucharist held over the Chalice, and the white piece ‘casting’ light through a “ narrow gate” and through the chalice cup. It was just what that panel needed. But, the pasture panel looked even more empty in comparison. 

While out and about the next day, I envisioned a few buildings, like houses, in the pasture. As soon as I returned home, I drew them in. It reminded me of Bethlehem, so I drew the Star above the town and streaming light down on the houses. With this addition, I thought the roofs of the houses should be ‘tiled’ to give the roof tops sparkle in ‘response’ to the Star’s light.  

The Tree and the Apostles
The next day, I looked at the mock ups of the two panels on either side of the altar, or the center, and they didn’t feel connected. I took a break for a day in the hope that something would come to me; but when I returned to it, nothing struck me at first. But then, my eyes fell on the reeds and I looked over at the saplings, and I knew what was needed to connect those panels: a tree.

I penciled in a uniformly-designed tree, each side with it’s own leanings,  in each panel on the right edge of the pasture panel, and also on the left edge of the water panel, and then, I drew six leaves on one side, and six on the other, symbolizing the Apostles. I thought I had it finished, but I was off on that again. 

The next day, while looking at the mock ups, I envisioned a small circular crystal in the middle of the Star and, I realized that the stem of the chalice could be fitted with a blunt-top A-shaped crystal, accentuating “the narrow gate”. I wondered if the crystals would cast rainbows on objects in the church sanctuary. I thought for a moment, and remembered that the windows faced west, and the late afternoon sun would come through the crystals, throwing rainbows. I knew the crystals would make the project; so I scribbled a spec page.

How Could I Forget the Wine?
At our next weekly meeting, the professor pointed to the cup of the chalice that was filled with part of the white semi-circle and said, “I doubt you’ll get that shape cut out; but if you do, it’ll break.” I was devastated! I could see he was right!  I’d have to cut that piece up. It was back to the drawing board, literally. I racked my brain with no luck, and decided to trust in God, a stance that had worked miracles up to that point; and I wondered how God was going to solve this one.

I had to go to the store and needed to quickly wash my hair, so I used the bathroom sink. At the end of rinsing, in my mind a multi-red color thin stream of light came whirling down from the right side of my mind and into a chalice cup. It was the wine. How could I  forget wine?! I quickly wrapped my hair in a towel, got the water panel out, and put the flowing wine in it, starting from the right side of the water panel, through the blazing sun, and into the chalice cup. That broke up the problem piece. It looked stunning; better than anything I could have come up with, as the power of the Holy Spirit always does.

Then I looked at the pasture panel; then back to the wine, and there was a slight imbalance. After a minute or so, I figured, what’s good for one panel is good for the other; so I drew in a very similar design, in white on the pasture panel, coming from the left, then tucked it in behind the Star. 

An “A” Grade All Around
I ended up turning the project in very close to the wire. The professor handed them back to me the next day. I got the highest grade he gives; an A, and I was relieved to have it over with.

Within a day or so, the professor called me into his office. The church wanted my designs! I was flabbergasted! I nearly jumped up and down for joy! The bad news was, they had taken the designs to three commercial companies for the construction and the cost estimates were sky high. The profession said that a gentleman in the second company, asked the family members where they got the mock ups, because he had never seen such quality designs. With that said, the professor wanted to know if I’d do the construction as an independent study. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. A lump formed in my throat. 

The professor talked on and on, telling me the church would provide a large construction table and a light table, and, of course, the glass, equipment, supplies, and anything I could possibly need, and I would get to keep it all. And since the professor knew that the house I was in was similar to his, he pointed out that the dry, full, unfinished basement would enable me to work at home. He added, the independent study carries 6 credit hours, twice the regular amount. I thought, “What more could I want, except hands-on experience in a medium involving 110-square feet of glass cutting.” 

I told him I didn’t think I should do it. He stood up, walked to the office door, asking me to follow him. We entered a room with a large art table. From a shelf he took a glass cutter and glass pliers. On the table was a piece of window glass, about two-foot- by-two foot in size.. 

He cut the glass down the middle, took the pliers, and popped it in half. It looked so easy. He asked me if I wanted to try it. I did, and when the score on the glass popped perfectly, I was surprised. It wasn’t as bad as I thought. But, I still wasn’t sure. 

There was more to it. I didn’t want to start something I wouldn’t be able to finish. and I would be under a deadline contract. I shared my concerns. The professor said, if I ran into a couple of rough spots, he would help. I thought that was a decent enough safety net, but I still wasn’t sure. I told him that I felt bad about the church not having the memorial because I’m the one saying no to it. 

He suggested that I think about it during the rest of the break and get back with him before the start of the Spring Semester, which was closing in fast. As I was about to leave, he said, “By the way, did you know the stained glass windows memorial is for a deceased church member?” I nodded. “And”, he added, “who accidentally drown this past Mother’s Day?” I admitted I hadn’t known that. Then he said, “And the family members are sold on the water panel.” I thought, “What a bizarre coincidence!”.    

On that note, I returned home and, as mentioned at the beginning of this saga, I spent a number of days mulling it over whether or not I should go ahead, but nothing gave me the badly needed green light.  I decided to trust God to let me know, and I let it go.

The Last Card
I finished decking the halls, put the empty decoration boxes away, got a cup of coffee, grabbed the stash of last year’s Christmas cards off of the buffet, and sat down at my desk.. I began separating out the ones that would make the best gift tags. Near the bottom of the pile was a card, face down. I noticed the penciled date I put on all cards before I put them away in one of the boxes. It was sent the Christmas before. I turned it over. On the front was a graphic of Mary and the Child surrounded in red, green and gold “stained glass”. I thought, “So much for not thinking about it.”

I opened it. The greeting said, “Glory surrounding Mother and Son; Glory surrounding everyone”, and at the bottom was Grandma’s signature. I realized I was holding her last Christmas Card to me because she died early in the year.  

Tears started welling up as I looked again at the front of the card. I wondered if Grandma was somehow involved in this. I would have laughed if I hadn't started in with full water works. I cried and cried and at last cried out, “Looks like it’s the Holy Spirit, you and me, Grandma!” 

The next day I called the professor and told him I’d do the construction. He asked what did it take. I told him. He wasn't surprised. The construction was completed in under 6 months, and the stained glass was installed a month later. Everything went smoothly, and I don’t wonder why. Grandma’s card is in a glass frame, on a wall in my home where it reminds daily of the unbeatable power of the Holy Spirit. And although I publicly entitled windows “The 23rd Psalm”, privately, they belong to Grandma.

Tina Irene Williams
From ©WilliamsScript, the author's private collection of writings.
Copyright © Tina Irene Williams 2014 All Rights Reserved.
No part of this document may be reproduced without Tina Irene Williams' written consent.