Stained glass radiance

by Susan Simons

LA VETA- St. Benedict Episcopal Church at 113 W. Field St. in La Veta is a small, plain rectangular building on a narrow lot.  It is a classic country church with a pitched roof and tall, white steeple.  It was built in 1900 at the southwest corner of Main and Field streets by the Seventh Day Adventist Church and moved two lots east in 1910 to its present location.  In 2004, it became the home of St. Benedict Episcopal Mission, and in June 2008, the last of six splendid stained glass windows designed and built by local artist, Anjillee Schwarz, was installed.

    The long, narrow windows on the east and west sides of the building fill with morning and afternoon light.  The light is always changing and the windows never appear exactly  the same twice.  According to the artist, stained glass is “…the only medium where you get direct light through color; all other mediums reflect color.  It casts the color into the air.” 

    Each window was commissioned by one or more parishioners who visited with Schwarz, to give a sense of their color preferences and personalities.  As a result, each window expresses personal meaning.  For example, window #1, entitled Peace, was commissioned by Betty Elwell in honor of her husband, Carroll.  Grace, harmony, and gratitude are also associated with this window.  The colors are the blues, greens, and golds of nature.  The window integrates curved and straight lines in a graceful design of multiple arches.

    The designs of each window also incorporate more universal meanings.  The designs are based on the principles of sacred geometry, and each speaks of different kinds of harmony in music, nature, and life.  The basis of sacred geometry is the concept of phi, or the Divine Proportion.  Implied in its mathematical expression are all primary geometric forms.  “It describes how absolute unity can become…an endless interconnected array of forms.”  These interconnected forms speak without words of such things as forgiveness, grace, unity, creation, truth and wisdom.

    For example,  window #6, the Unity window, speaks of the institutions that organize our communal life such as marriage.  The dualities of life—light and dark, male and female—are contained in well-defined straight lines and bold colors under the godhead which is expressed in  bright curves that speak of the more nurturing aspects of the divine.

    Window #4 is the Creation window expressing the Eye of God generated by concentric circles.  If we imagine truth and wisdom as two pebbles thrown into the water, the place where their concentric circles overlap would form the Eye of God or Vesica Pisces.  All creation comes from that center.  The peaceful, vibrant colors of sun, earth, and sky surround the luminous center.

    The design and building of the windows took two years from beginning to end.  Schwarz, the artist, describes working on the project as “…a profound experience, …a tempering process.”  She has been working with the principles of sacred geometry since she was 19, and they are embedded in her artistic nature.  She received a degree in Fine Arts from Fort Lewis College in Durango in 1981 and apprenticed with Master James Laughren on many large stained-glass projects in places such as Durango and Dolores, including the stained glass windows for the Catholic church in Ignacio, CO.  She teaches for the La Veta School of the Arts and will offer a class this summer on August  1-3.

    St Benedict will be open Sun. August 1 from 9-4 and Sun. August 3 from 12-4  to welcome people who want to view the windows.  This will be stop #17 on the La Veta Studio and Gallery Tour sponsored by the Spanish Peaks Arts Council.  The photographs of the windows for this article were done by Peggy Zehring of La Veta School of the Arts.