Jo Walker has taught continuing education students how to create with stained glass at Lone Star College-North Harris for the past 28 years.
Most students attend the classes for personal enrichment and to fashion stained-glass panels for their homes. However, last spring, some of Walker's students had something on a grander scale in mind ... 40 church windows for the chapel at St. Ignatius Loyola Catholic Church in Spring.
Ironically, Walker's first experience with stained glass came when she and a friend decided to take a continuing education course, offered by Mr. Freeman, while he was teaching at North Harris, because a friend was taking it. "I did mosaics in high school and at The University of Texas, where I majored in art," she explained. "Piecing things together has always been something I liked to do."
Before the spring classes, one of her previous students, Pat VanDeCapelle, approached Walker, asking if she would teach a course, using leading rather than foil because they wanted to make stained glass windows for their church.
"The lead method is older," explained Walker, who has exhibited her stained glass art at The Renaissance Festival for the last 30 years. "Leaded windows are what you see in 500-year-old churches. The foil technique came about in the 1800s and is actually stronger, although some people actually like the looks of lead better. Stained glass artists teach lead in North and foil in the South, but lead is harder to do because you have to be more accurate in your glass cuts. Foil is more forgiving. If you cut your glass badly, you can always fill in with the foil."
When Walker agreed to teach the lead technique, VanDeCapelle and four members of the St. Ignatius parish signed up for the class and worked on the windows over the summer.
Although VanDeCapelle had taken Walker's classes before, four of the St. Ignatius students were beginners.
"I took a class from Jo in 2003 for the fun of it," VanDeCapelle said. "I learned to do stained glass, even did two windows for my home, but the windows I was putting in were very complex and I never figured out how to install them."
About the same year, St. Ignatius parish built a new church to accommodate its rapidly growing congregation.
"A lady at our church, Mary Jo Harrington, was interested in spearheading a project for our new church, which had very little in the way of stained glass," she explained, "so we talked to our pastor about the possibility of making the windows ourselves."
After the pastor's okay, an intrepid group of women went to the various congregational committees to receive approval. "We realized we had to show them something, "VanDeCapelle said, "so we took Jo's course and three of us completed a class project-three stained glass windows for the church."
After measuring all 40 windows in the chapel, the women realized that each window had its own, specific measurements...just one of the surprises they encountered along the way.
"We got approval in the summer and then fashioned a stained glass donation box and presented it, along with the windows, to all the masses, asking for donations and people who were interested in working on the windows to sign up," said VanDeCapelle.
The response from the parishioners was overwhelming. "We expected 15 people to sign up and got 100 names," VanDeCapelle said. "Our intent was to teach the people who signed up how to do it, but the only space we had was a trailer we could only use part time."
After explaining the project, VanDeCapelle and her team had a group of 35 committed to classes... they paid for their own materials, and donations covered the costs of all the necessary materials for the church windows. Before starting on the windows, the group was given a single class project, something simple enough to be done but hard enough to present a challenge to cull out anyone who wasn't interested in working hard enough to complete the project.
"Several people finished their projects by September. 23, 2007, as they completed their projects, we assigned them a church window to do," the team leader recalled. "Meanwhile, the three of us who had trained with Jo were working on other church windows."
On Jan. 19, 2008, the group installed the first 14 windows -- seven on the chapel's north side and seven on the south side. "In February, we installed the remaining south side windows...and we'll install the remaining windows on the north during the first few weeks of March," VanDeCapelle said."
The chapel also has a small window above the entrance door, a window that can be seen only when parishioners are leaving services. At the pastor's suggestion, this single window will have an inlaid cross in its design, the same design as the class project, only larger.
"While we were taking classes from Jo, we were talking to people about it," said VanDeCapelle, "so many knew about our plans and were interested in the project. One man told us his wife wanted to do one of the windows. However, she died suddenly before the project began, but to keep himself busy and to honor his wife, the gentleman created four of the windows and helped install the first windows."
Aside from the beauty the windows have added to the chapel, those who worked on the project took pride in what they were contributing to their parish chapel and working together to create the windows.
"We had grandparents working with grandchildren, singles, couples, even a mother and her 10-year-old daughter," VanDeCapelle said. "At our meeting, when we were explaining the project, the 10-year-old came up, wanting to know if she would be allowed to work on the windows. I said, ‘I think you're old enough to wash your hands after using the lead, so if a parent will come with you, I have no problems teaching you.' Both finished their class project, worked together on a window and theirs is now complete.
Now that the windows are complete, a formal dedication is tentatively scheduled sometime this spring, and VanDeCapelle said there's a possibility the group will be able to do more windows in the church.
In the interim, she is taking the scrap glass from the projects and making sun catchers with her parish students. Her plans are to offer the stained glass items - made from the glass left over from the chapel windows - during a church festival. "I'm sure there are those who would like to have these to remember this project," VanDeCapelle said, "and the money we make can go toward the next stained glass window project.
As the project nears completion, Jo Walker applauds her students for their accomplishment. "My students completed 40 windows and each window was customized to be an exact fit for the opening," she said, "estimating each window would cost $100 per square foot plus labor.
Walker taught VanDeCapelle and her fellow parishioners how to make leaded windows and exactly the right size. "I provided input about things going into design-but that's normal teaching," said the instructor. "I critique every design, telling them what's good, bad and what's not going to work. That's part of the teaching process-passing on your experience. But, the real credit goes to my students, who talked their parish into supporting the project and then they taught their congregation how to actually make the windows. That's pretty special."
Lone Star College-North Harris offers stained glass classes each semester for a low cost of $76. For more information, call Sarah Behring at 281.618.5626.
Lone Star College-North Harris is located at 2700 W.W. Thorne Drive, one-half mile south of FM 1960 East, between Aldine-Westfield and Hardy Roads. For more information about the college, call 281.618.5400 or visit: NorthHarris.LoneStar.edu .
Lone Star College System consists of five colleges, including CyFair, Kingwood, Montgomery, North Harris, and Tomball, six centers and Lone Star College-University Center. It is the largest college system in the Houston area, and third largest community college district in Texas. To learn more, visit LoneStar.edu .
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