My mornings begin early. In wintertime, I rise long before the sun arrives. If I am the first person awake (my husband works an early shift, so he is often up before me) I try not to disturb the lucky sleepers, so I grope my way downstairs in the dark, clutching the bannister and feeling carefully with my toes for the two landings where the stairwell makes a turn. At each of these landings, there is a window that catches the early morning sun and illuminates the stairway. In one of these windows, I have placed a precious reminder of beauty, a stained glass panel also known as a”sun catcher” with a pattern of pink roses. When it catches sunlight, it spreads a cheery rosy glow into the stairwell that delights me. A sign of Spring’s imminent arrival is when a sunlit stairway begins to greet me in the early morning. The stained glass roses are more sentimental than just a Springtime greeting, because the stained glass was a favourite possession of my mother’s that she kept hanging in the opening between her kitchen and living room. The splashes of sunny colour on my stairs and walls are a welcome reminder of my mother’s warm kitchen and her generous nurturing of her family, and I think about my own role as a mother to my two children.
Windows are the ultimate in mediums. They are the visual gateway from the inside to the outdoors. They are the portals of light through which sun, moon and stars scatter magical patterns across the floors, ceilings and walls of our lives. They can set the mood of a room, flooding it with crystal-clear translucent beams of sunshine, or filtering the light through softening colours of stained glass. Stained glass can transform brilliant sunshine into a hushed and calming cathedral-inspired atmosphere. Or it can channel a moonbeam into an otherwise shadow-filled space, turning it into an intensely colour-drenched state of ethereal beauty. Unlike a painting, a window frames an ever-changing panorama. A window is the ultimate in transformative art, not only because its “canvas” is an ever-changing panorama of real life, capturing it in snapshots as it unfolds in real time occurring within its purview, but also because it transforms the reality in which the viewer stands, effecting change on the position from which the viewer contemplates the “picture”.
My friend has a window in his kitchen that was designed by his friend, the renowned artist Bill Reid. It has personal meaning to my friend, as well as being a beautiful and special feature of his home. It diffuses the light through its etched patterns, brightening his kitchen in more ways than one. It is a reminder of stories wrapped in comraderie and anecdotes, the kind of escapades that cement friendships to endure over time and despite distance.
If you live in one of Vancouver’s older homes, it is likely that you enjoy vintage stained glass windows in one or two rooms. In the area of Burnaby Heights, there is a heritage property known as “Overlynn”, a mansion built in 1910 by a Scottish tea merchant, C.J. Peters. At Christmas time, “Overlynn” is open to the public for a Christmas craft fair. There are guided tours of the mansion at this time, offering a glimpse into the intricate designs and intimate details that graced the home decor of the Peters family in 1910. There is a lovely little garden on the grounds.
“Overlynn” is located at 401 North Esmond Avenue, Burnaby, BC, Canada. Like many heritage buildings, it has lovely vintage stained glass windows. Inside, this house is flooded with natural light, but when sunlight streams through these stained glass window panes, the colourful display inside the mansion transforms it with warmth and cheer that makes you pause to watch it play on the marble and wood, and the sterling silver features embedded here or there. Visit Overlynn’s website to see other photographs and to learn more about this special place.
It seems that there was a time when stained glass was utilized regularly by interior designers. I wonder what became of this practice, as few modern homes incorporate this form of art into the construction of the windows. A stained glass window is an unusual and special feature that rarely adorns a newly constructed home nowadays, unless it was special-ordered by the owner who will likely not have a construction crew that is knowledgeable nor skilled at installing such a window.
With development, many vintage stained glass windows are salvaged as older homes are torn down. These windows may end up being resold at a used building supply store. The Antique Market located at 1324 Franklin Street, Vancouver, BC has a large display of vintage stained glass windows, of various sizes and quality. There is also an incredible array of antique furniture, chandeliers, and home decor items. I love passing time browsing amongst the collectibles, imagining the stories if only the antiques could talk.
There are artisans professionally trained in the restoration of stained glass windows. Vancouver is fortunate to be home to such artists, and who can also be retained on commission to design and make stained glass works for residences or ecclesiastical buildings. Check out the website of Laura and John Gilroy of Gilroy Stained Glass to see what is possible with this amazing art form.
I have known the stunning beauty of stained glass on a sunny Sunday morning in church, the feature windows that create a sense of the sacred and holy as the choir sings. Each panel tells a story that are fine substitutes for a sermon. I will never forget the breathtaking impact of the floor-to-ceiling panels of 12th century hand-blown stained glass at Saint-Chapelle in Paris, and the Rose Window at Notre Dame. Here in Vancouver, our much younger church buildings offer some richly coloured artwork of fine quality. The Holy Rosary Cathedral was built in 1900 and is home to a number of heritage stained glass windows that are so beautiful, they would entice even the least religious person to visit.
There are many heritage buildings near the office where I work, as well as many gorgeous cathedrals, parks and gardens. A quick break from work to spend a moment admiring some stunning architecture, majestic trees and beautifully landscaped gardens, or the hushed interior of a church sanctuary. The Holy Rosary church is about one block from my office and I like to steal a moment of calm and peace once in awhile. The beauty of the stained glass windows there can lift me out of a work-a-day funk and restore my equilibrium, letting me escape into the stories so artfully told and to be transported by light-infused colours to a favourite daydream. There are 21 stained glass windows here, and the newest one, “The Holy Spirit Window”, depicts six saints: Mother Teresa and Pope St. John Paul II (because they had visited Vancouver), Sts. Gianna Beretta Molla, Kateri Tekakwitha, Juan Diego, and Pedro Calungsod. The dove at the centre represents the Holy Spirit.
If you are thinking you would like to create a window of your own divine inspiration, I have found just the shop to teach you how to craft your stained glass vision into a personal work of art. Visit the Kona Stained Glass studio, where you can sign up to take a course, or just browse the shop for something beautiful to hang in your own window, to catch the light in your own eyes and lift your spirits sunward.