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This article was published 6/12/2014 (2485 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
When members of an East Kildonan church wanted more colour in their sanctuary, the solution became quite clear: learn how to make stained glass windows.
For the past 18 months, about two dozen people from River East Mennonite Brethren Church have rolled up their sleeves, put on their safety goggles and picked up their soldering irons in an effort to create 100 window panels for their brick A-frame building.
"There was a longing to create something together that would stand the test of time and would imbue the space with colour," project coordinator Rachel Baerg says of the 18-month process of building five panels for each of the 20 narrow floor-to-ceiling windows.
Equipped with seed money for the art installation from the estate of a deceased church member, Baerg and other creative types pondered how to pay for the windows on a small budget.
Realizing they could never afford to pay a stained glass artist tens of thousands of dollars to transform their drawings into windows, Baerg and fellow artist Danielle Fontaine Koslowsky decided to focus the creative energies of church members.
They met with artisans from Prairie Stained Glass, invited interested church folk to take a short course on working with glass, and set up a temporary workshop.
"It’s a very artistic group and that’s probably the No. 1 reason they’re successful," says Lucinda Doran of Prairie Stained Glass.
With an investment of $1,000 in tools and another $9,000 spent on 53 colours of glass, the River East artisans got down to work.
"We learned as we went along. It was a steep learning curve," recalls Koslowsky, who coordinates children’s ministries for the congregation.
"I think it’s something no one thought they could do, but here we are, doing 100 windows."
Two groups of artisans meet weekly on Tuesday or Thursday evenings in a borrowed space at Palliser Furniture, immersing themselves in the challenges of cutting glass, grinding it smooth, and fitting it together with channelled leading.
"You are here and you think about nothing else," explains Tuesday team member Lori Matties of the process of working with glass. "You only think about what you’re doing."
"The funny thing about this whole project is all the artisans are all hooked (now) on stained glass," adds Baerg, whose father and fellow Tuesday team member William Baerg set up a home studio.
Doing the project themselves not only saved them tens of thousands of dollars, it also built skills, sparked creativity, and created community across the generations with young adults working side-by-side with senior citizens, says Baerg.
"There’s something very special about the fact that it’s our church and we’re making these windows and these windows really represent our legacy of our faith and our community," says the art educator at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.
And with 80 panels portraying the biblical creation story through colours and symbols already completed and installed, the artisans of River East have a sense of how their creativity and craftsmanship changes their worship space.
"We’re reclaiming art and seeing the importance of that and how beauty has a real place in our lives," says Connie Epp of the Tuesday team. "Beauty and truth go hand in hand."
When the artisans complete the final windows early next year, they’ll also have the satisfaction of knowing they helped create a worship space full of light and colour and energy by tapping into their own creative spark, says Baerg.
"It’s not only the chosen few who are artists, but we are all artists," she says.
"The Creator lives in all of us."
Brenda Suderman has been a columnist in the Saturday paper since 2000, first writing about family entertainment, and about faith and religion since 2006.