The Artist and the Church
Liturgical glass, if it is to be successful, is faithful to both the vision of the local church and to the interpretive gifts of a specific artist. The process is collaborative, with artist and church sharing in the creation of a work intended to glorify God, support worship, and give voice to the church community’s unique character.
For the content of a large window illuminating a chapel adjacent to the primary worship space, St. Helen Catholic Church in Pearland, Texas had an unusual request. They asked their glass artist, Stephen A. Wilson, to create a visual meditation on the parish’s history and community identity. With regard to form, there was a requirement as well. The church specified a predominance of greens, which would complement the more traditional blues and reds desired for Eucharist and Resurrection-themed windows in the nave and narthex.
The Light and Beauty of God
Wilson approached the work in keeping with his fundamental philosophy: every window is to be a jewel—a shimmering screen of carefully handled color, transparency, and line that, even aside from the presence of iconography, will help the viewer experience the light and beauty of God. This is, after all, the underlying symbolism of all stained glass, that God is light. The specifics follow. Imagery is developed from scripture, tradition, and local culture and arranged to express layers of meaning edifying to the parish and complementary to the architectural context.
To address the parish’s history, Wilson requested architectural elevations of the four buildings the church had worshiped in during its 50 year existence. These he superimposed along a single vertical axis to illustrate the church’s upward and outward physical expansion. Then he aligned, along the same vertical axis, a tree—a pear tree—an image rich with universal and scriptural resonances, and at the same time the traditional emblem of Pearland’s agricultural, orchard community. The tree also provided, of course, an appropriate vehicle for the requested greens. Below the tree Wilson arranged seven pears, reminders both of the seven gifts of the Spirit (Isaiah 11:2-3) and the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Modulations in the greens, yellows, and surrounding blues, purples, pinks, and ambers delineated architectural elements while providing the jewel-like splendor of the artist’s vision. The result was a visual meditation on the light of God entering the chapel and on the church’s spiritual growth, which has accompanied its numerical growth, and which will guide it into its future in this Texas community.
Serving God and God's Church
The creative process represents opportunity and risk for both church and artist. Can God and God’s church be well-served by such human and finite work? And in this case, how would this faith community respond to this unusual expression of its particular identity? Answers are not black and white. Yet the pride with which parishioners refer to the work and share it with visitors, the prominence of the window in the masthead of the church’s website, and the artist’s own enjoyment in exploring color and interpreting a theme unusual in liturgical art suggest that the collaboration was a success. ~ Cynthia Meyer
Title: The Bride of Christ
Setting: Day Chapel, St. Helen Catholic Church, Pearland, Texas
Designer: Stephen A. Wilson
Fabrication: Stephen Wilson Stained Glass of Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Materials: Mouth-blown European and domestic stained glass
Dimensions: The window is 16’ high and 18’ wide
Photography: Cynthia Meyer
Essay: Cynthia F. Meyer, MA PhD