So a few weeks ago I got the chance to interview a lady who makes stained-glass windows. Seriously, how cool is that?
The piece I wrote was never published elsewhere, and since it’s that kind of day where I spilled coffee on my skirt and got hit in the face twice before 10:30 a.m., what better time to post already-written content. Enjoy!
Stained glass is in Sylvia Nicolas’ blood.
Slight and soft-spoken, Nicolas is the fourth generation of artists in her family to specialize in stained-glass windows. On family road trips across Europe, Nicolas, who is originally from the Netherlands, said that her parents would stop in every church they passed to admire the artwork.
Nicolas spoke at St. John’s University last Wednesday about her experience designing and painting the stained-glass windows in St. Thomas More Church. The event was hosted by Campus Ministry and was planned in conjunction with the 20th annual Founder’s Week celebration and the 10th anniversary of the dedication of St. Thomas More Church.
Nicolas was first approached by St. John’s about four years before the church was built, but when she discovered that there was a competition for the design of the windows she lost interest.
“I never do competitions, because I like my colleagues much too much,” she said.
However, she had an outline on her desk of the shape of one of the windows, and she began doodling on it. Eventually, the entire outline was full, and she began to color it in.
“Finally I’d drawn the whole thing,” Nicolas said.
When she began to officially design the windows, she estimates that she spent about a year and a half working on the project, which began with the four large windows at the top of the sanctuary, which depict the four gospels, and expanded to add 15 additional windows that now ring the edge of the circular space.
Nicolas first draws and colors a detailed design for each window. She then plans how the window will look at scale, accounting for the bars of lead that must run through the glass at intervals to add stability. If a face or another important feature falls along one of these lines, she explained, the drawing must be altered.
When the design is finished, a full-size cartoon is created and used as a pattern for cutting the glass pieces, which are then painted. The window is assembled and fired by a studio that Nicolas works with in Mount Vernon, New York, and the glass is covered in a layer of black matte. Nicolas scrapes away the black matte to reveal the designs underneath, and uses it to create depth and shadow in her work.
“Once I start working I work very intensely and very hard,” Nicolas said. “With painting on the glass, I get so carried away it’s hard to stop. Every time things come alive.”
Nicolas, who resides in Mount Vernon, New Hampshire, spoke to a crowd of about 250 students and others inside the church. She gave a short description of her work, which was followed by a question and answer session and a light reception.
“Seeing them again is a great pleasure,” Nicolas said. “This is wonderful.”
How cool is that?! I love churches and looking at the windows, and I had no idea just how much went into designing one.