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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The Pope Flew Away…a year ago

One year ago today, Pope Benedict XVI left the chair of Peter.

One year ago today, Allie and I hurried out of theology class and rushed Angie and Elise along, heading down Via Cola di Rienzo towards St. Peter’s Square, a route we knew by heart by that point. We waved goodbye and took photographs and, feeling lost, turned away from a big basilica voluntarily without a bishop for the first time in centuries to eat paninis in a little restaurant on Via Ottaviano.

Since the announcement of the pope’s intention to resign a few weeks before (and Jenny sums up what it felt like so very well over here), we knew things would change.

I’m not sure we knew how much, both for us and for the world.

In any case, below is my post from a year ago. (If you’re interested in reading more about this, just put “pope” in that search box in my sidebar and you’ll get dozens of results.)

###Allie was very emotionally distraught

Allie was very emotionally distraught
People crowded the square
People crowded the square
The sunset over St. Peter's
The sunset over St. Peter’s
The usual flags were joined by a giant cross
The usual flags were joined by a giant cross
A second helicopter followed the first so we could see the entire journey from takeoff to landing
A second helicopter followed the first so we could see the entire journey from takeoff to landing

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Their banner said "Grazie"
Their banner said “Grazie”
This was a major plot point in Angels and Demons, if I remember correctly
This was a major plot point in Angels and Demons, if I remember correctly
These two watched intently in perfect silence
These two watched intently in perfect silence
Ciao Papa
Ciao Papa
We watched on the giant televisions as he lifted off and circled Rome
We watched on the giant televisions as he lifted off and circled Rome
The crowd
The crowd
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Installation Mass: Crowd Shots

See that smiling police officer? Bet you anything he's not Italian.

See that smiling police officer? Bet you anything he’s not Italian.

"So, what kind of police are you?" "Oh you've probably never heard of us, we are the Rome Vatican Special Events But Only When The President of Germany is Here and the Moon is Full Division." "That explains it--I'm from the Prati Pontifex North Division for Theological Events."

“So, what kind of police are you?” “Oh you’ve probably never heard of us, we are the Rome Vatican Special Events But Only When The President of Germany is Here and the Moon is Full Division.” “That explains it–I’m from the Prati Pontifex North Division for Theological Emergencies Only.”

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The police weren't sure what to do with the Argentinians...

The police weren’t sure what to do with the Argentinians…

So much pride. So many flasks.

So much pride. So many flasks.

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The group just got bigger...

The group just got bigger…

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The breakdown

The breakdown

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More police

More police

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Him, in Italian: "You will probably put this on Facebook!" Me: "Si!"

Him, in Italian: “You will probably put this on Facebook!” Me: “Si!”

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Perfect nails, hair, cigarette, dog. Lei e Italiana.

Perfect nails, hair, cigarette, dog. Lei e Italiana.

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The more power the police have, the prettier their uniforms. These are done by Prada or someone similar.

The more power the police have, the prettier their uniforms. These are done by Prada or someone similar.

Police

Police

What a beautiful day

What a beautiful day

Preparing for the onslaught of pilgrims

Preparing for the onslaught of pilgrims

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Conclave Recap

Oh goodness. Like everyone else, I have a lot of feelings about last night, especially since I was actually there, and I doubt I have the words to express to you what it was like. And just so you know, I’m mostly going to talk about feelings here. Facts are for the real media. (Just kidding. But not about the part where I talk about feelings.)

It was surreal. Everyone knew that this was history.

It was a party. Rome dropped what she was doing and ran to the piazza. There was prosecco and confetti. When the smoke proved white, there was a minute or two of screaming and cheering, and then everyone ran to crowd in front of the balcony. There were four other girls with me and we all grabbed each others’ hands and rushed into the crowd. An Australian man behind me complained to his friend: “I have an interview with (someone) in the morning! I’m supposed to be there early!” “Cancel it!” someone else yelled to him. At one point, we sang the Italian national anthem, of which I know about 1/4 of the words. Every few minutes there was something new to get excited about: the Swiss Guards, the (Swiss Guard? Carabinieri?) band, the unfurling of the papal banner, a shadow behind the window. And in between? We shouted, cried, jumped up and down, convinced each other it was Sean O’Malley and made friends with everyone around us. Sean O’Malley wasn’t a personal favorite, but I seemed to be alone among the English-speakers.

It turned on a dime. The crowd went from dead silence as we stared at the smoke to jumping and cheering when it was for sure white. The applause and shouting were deafening when the Archdeacon came out to announce the name, but it was completely, incredibly quiet when he cleared his throat and intoned “Habemus papam!” This happened over and over, from the outcry when the gull sat on the chimney to the quiet recitation of prayers. The crowd went “Wait. Who? What did he say?” when the name was announced, then collectively shrugged its shoulders and started chanting “FRANCESCO. FRANCESCO.” with gusto.

It was holy. It was diverse. It was the church. It was inspiring. I loved seeing all of the different people who had come to see this exact moment, from the young German couple in front of us to the older black Italians who were frantically googling Francis, from the monk in a fancy renaissance-type habit (complete with beret) to the elderly American couple telling everyone around them that they had lived in Argentina. I thought it was impressive that Francis began by asking for prayers for himself, the Church, and Benedict. We said the Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, and Gloria Patri in Italian (but I wish it was in Latin because I know most of those). And despite some of the confused posts I’ve been reading from those who aren’t the biggest church fans, I think it’s fantastic that the world still gets this excited over a religious leader.

Pope Francis only has one lung. He evidently took the bus home last night, which is not only humble but daring (driving is not an Italian strong point). There’re photos going around of him washing the feet of new mothers, but I think the ones of him washing the feet of AIDS victims are more impressive.

I stood in varying degrees of rain for eight hours yesterday to see this. I would do it again.

And today? In Rome, the weather was beautiful.

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