A Window into the Work of an Artist

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!

 

Photo/Pixabay, not designed by Sylvia Nichols

Photo/Pixabay, not designed by Sylvia Nicolas, but still pretty.

 

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.

Father James Martin speaking at St. Thomas More last year. You can see some of Nichols' work in the background.

Father James Martin speaking at St. Thomas More last year. You can see some of Nicolas’ work in the background.

 

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.”

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How cool is that?! I love churches and looking at the windows, and I had no idea just how much went into designing one.

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Photograph Saturday

A bonus post, because I love you! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve realized my forte is landscape/architecture/anything but people photos. Better to focus on being actually good at that, or working on also being acceptable at portraits and action shots?

 

 

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The Churches of Rome

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Some of the greatest art and architecture here in Rome is found in the churches. Rick and I managed to visit quite a few, hitting most (but of course not all!) of the hot spots. For tourists, that is. Churches that are significant to the faith will require another post!

All in all we saw St. Peter’s, Santa Maria sopra Minerva, Sant’Ignatzio, the Pantheon, the temple of Romulus, and Santa Maria del Popolo (from the outside).

Above you see the temple of Romulus in the Roman Forum, a monument dedicated not to the founder of Rome but to the son of Maxentius who built it. Interestingly, nearby is the oldest archaeological dig in Rome, where legend has it the first Romulus was buried. They recently found a tomb there with warnings against trespassers which is super cool, but of course it can’t be proven.

Below is the Pantheon, which is free, astonishing, and definitely worth a visit.

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Rick was very curious about the engineering function of the square baffle thingies.

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The oculus.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI like icons.

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Not only is it free, but you’re allowed to sit outside and enjoy the view. The Pantheon is a very short walk from Piazza Navona, the Trevi Fountain, and the McDonald’s with free bathrooms.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARick was fascinated by the chips and holes in various columns throughout the city. It wasn’t until our guided Colosseum tour on Friday that we learned it was because Rome was upcycled so many times. They would strip the columns of marble or other facings, leaving dented stone behind, and reuse the marble for new attractions.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASanta Maria sopra Minerva is an unassuming church that you almost stumble onto. It’s near the Pantheon and other attractions, but on a side street, and without the Bernini elephant obelisk it wouldn’t stand out at all.

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The inside, however, is magnificent. This is Christ with Cross by Michelangelo. To the right, you can get a glimpse of the altar, where the body of St. Catherine of Siena is. Her head is somewhere else.

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All of the chapels are by other significant artists, notably Lippi.

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This picture does not even come close to doing it justice, but you can imagine how lovely it is to slip into this plain building and be greeted by such amazing beauty. Which is an analogy of some sort–read into that what you will.

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The alley between Largo Argentina and the Pantheon is the priests’ Fifth Avenue. This is Gammarelli, who makes the robes for the new pope. This window made headlines this week with the three robes in small, medium, and large in order to accommodate whichever candidate is chosen, but when we passed they had been removed and there was only the lone zucchetto and a miniature Swiss Guard standing watch.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI thought this street was super cool and worth a walk down. There were virtually no tourists and you pass Santa Maria sopra Minerva on the way to the Pantheon.

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Post-Pantheon we dropped into Sant’Ignatzio, a Jesuit church, just because we saw it was open and thought it might be interesting. It turned out to be the highlight of the trip for him. Here is the Boyfriend appreciating the trompe l’oeil.

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You can see that from here the perspective is a little off–it’s only perfect if you stand on the right place. They offer free concerts here and I would love to go.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve posted about St. Peter’s many times, so I’ll just leave that one to my previous entries, but do not miss it. Must-sees for me were Bernini’s tabernacle (no photos allowed, only for adoration purposes), the Pieta, the tomb of Bonnie Prince Charlie and company, and the crypts (free for the first level, you need reservations for St. Peter’s level).

The photo above with the fabulous crest on the ceiling was from a church whose name I don’t remember, another one that we just stepped into to appreciate the art.

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And finally, these two unedited pictures, taken from Piazza Venezia. I swear that Rome has the best light in the evening.

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Florence

…a weekend in pictures.

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Leather + books = love

Leather + books = love

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Love this guy!

Love this guy!

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Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

River Arno

River Arno

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This was the best gelato I have ever eaten. Homemade frutti di bosco and cheesecake.

This was the best gelato I have ever eaten. Homemade frutti di bosco and cheesecake.

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What a pretty town at night!

What a pretty town at night!

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The villa of the Medicis or someone similar

The villa of the Medicis or someone similar

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The chocolate festival at Santa Maria Novella

The chocolate festival at Santa Maria Novella

Celebrating the chocolate festival

Celebrating the chocolate festival

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On top of the dome

On top of the dome

We hauled our way up 400+ steps to see Florence at sunset

We hauled our way up 400+ steps to see Florence at sunset

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St. Peter’s

The Christmas tree was on its last day when we visited!

The Christmas tree was on its last day when we visited!

St. Paul & Co. When a statue wears out beyond repair, they just replace with with another saint. (Except Jesus. I'm guessing they replace the Jesus.)

St. Paul & Co. When a statue wears out beyond repair, they just replace with with another saint. (Except Jesus. I’m guessing they replace the Jesus with another Jesus.)

The third window from the right is the Pope's living room.

The third window from the right is the Pope’s living room.

 

The door of the pilgrims, opened only once every 25 years....

The door of the pilgrims, opened only once every 25 years when the Pope hits it with a special chisel….

The small columns are original, I believe to the time of Constantine (300-400ish).

The small columns are original, I believe to the time of Constantine (300-400ish).

1. They're repairing the colonnade. 2. The icon is a replica of a smaller one on a building in St. Peter's Square. When JPII was shot he looked for an icon of the Blessed Mother as he was carried out on the stretcher. There wasn't one, so when he recovered he had one put up so that in the event someone else was shot (or just wanted to see the Blessed Mother I suppose) it would be there.

1. They’re repairing the colonnade.
2. The icon is a replica of a smaller one on a building in St. Peter’s Square. When JPII was shot he looked for an icon of the Blessed Mother as he was carried out on the stretcher. There wasn’t one, so when he recovered he had one put up so that in the event someone else was shot (or just really wanted to see the Blessed Mother, I suppose) it would be there.

This is, bizarrely, a casket turned upside down and made into a baptismal font. Upcycling at its finest?

This is, bizarrely, a casket turned upside down and made into the baptismal font. Upcycling at its finest?

...and some pretty sweet ceilings....

There’s some pretty sweet ceilings…

There's some pretty sweet domes...

…and a pretty sweet dome….

Window of the Holy Spirit by a famous artist...hm I don't remember which. Made of alabaster and one of the first stained glass window-style artworks!

Window of the Holy Spirit by a famous artist…hm I don’t remember which. Made of alabaster and one of the first stained glass window-style artworks!

The Pieta, protected by bulletproof glass.

The Pieta, protected by bulletproof glass. An altarpiece as it was intended to be.

The O is big enough to drive a car around! (An Italian-size car....)

The O is big enough to drive a car around! (An Italian-size car….)

It was a pretty great experience. Going with a deacon/almost-priest was even better, since he knew a lot about the history and different artworks in the building. One of my favorite moments was standing in St. Peter’s Square while he read us the bit from Matthew where Jesus appoints Peter! I’m going back with Rick for sure–he’ll love the architecture and I’m determined to find the Scottish monument. Tomorrow, we’ll be at the Vatican again for a papal audience.

 

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