By Molly Barber
Photos Courtesy of Elizabeth Devereaux
Glass arts have been around since ancient times- I was informed of this in the hot shop at Chico State where I learned glass blowing. It was there, I caught the glass bug and have been infected since. I was exposed to several different forms of glass art, each leaving me some sort of appreciation for it but there was always something ethereal about stained glass. Maybe it was always seeing it in the windows of important buildings, hindering the sight of onlookers, these fragile but powerful guardians. Yet, it wasn’t until meeting Elizabeth Devereaux that I found a whole new respect for this craft and all the work that goes into this art.
The process this company goes through is absolutely amazing. Every piece of Elizabeth’s work starts out as a watercolor (and usually ends up resembling a watercolor even though it’s on glass). Her design will allow her to know the color and quantity of the glass she orders from Germany. This glass will be hand blown color panels that they will then shape into the pieces that make up her vision. It’s incredible when you see her work and that her team consists of three people.
“Owen Gabbert is the project manager here and he does all the installation too.” Elizabeth explains, “and Kyle Campbell’s going to do some installation this time too, 65 feet up in the air.”
Kyle and Owen help with different parts of the creation process. There’s lots of shaping and beveling. Sometimes they’ll paint gold onto the piece (That’s not a typo, they paint 24 karat gold onto some of their projects). Owen finds himself not just installing the glass but taking the measurements to start the project. “The best thing is the view, when I’m looking out the windows and it’s always fun to see it put together. It’s a nice process.” Explained Owen, “Plus, I’m getting the behind the scenes- listening to the organs, it’s like being a fly on the wall.” Team work is big to Elizabeth and she was very explicit in the fact that it’s very much a team process to create these magnificent displays of art.
Elizabeth has done many public art, hospital, corporate commissions, but her main focus has been church work over the many years. Whether public or church, every window done by Elizabeth is site specific or custom made for that specific place. “Architecture and light are always big considerations. Light from each direction makes the glass look really different. From the East, you really have to moderate the light because there can be a morning glare with direct sunlight. You have to really understand how the light is going to affect an area.” Elizabeth said showing us examples of her work.
She showed us a church in Saginaw Michigan, Holy Spirit Catholic Church, that was absolutely jaw dropping. It had beautiful purple with slashes of red and orange going through it, and the scale of this piece of art is huge. There’s actually two windows facing either side of the altar. This specific church had a problem with the glare but they didn’t want all the windows obscured, because they also wanted to be able to see the geese flying by. So after seeing the space, and speaking with those involved she set off to work. She found inspiration in the church’s name. “In Christian scripture, it tells a story that after Jesus died, the apostles are in the upper room, suddenly a gust of wind comes in, and tongues of fire rest over their heads. The gust of wind represents the Spirit, and the tongues of fire represent the gift of tongues given to the apostles- to speak the Gospel and be understood in all languages,” explained Elizabeth showing us a photo of the finished product. “The purple glass is translucient, so that it defuses the light and glare. The tongues of fire are transparent mouth blown ‘flashed’ glass, (micro layers of varied color) they shade from red to yellow.” Because Elizabeth used the purple difused glass, properties these red and orange slashes really pop because they are more translucient. “And when the light shines through them, they ‘halate’, or spread out into the purple. The effect of halation actually changes the look of everything.”
Another piece that grabbed my attention was a Church, the Noe Valley Ministry Presbyterian church window she did in San Fransisco. Her inspiration for the design happened when she saw a cross inside of the church that was made by a famous sculptor named Ruth Azawa. Her work was very branchy and twig-like. The particular church also had a labyrinth incised in the floor.
“So I did a design of a spiral coming to the center. It reflects the labyrinth, and it also has this branch look to it, created with lead overlays, laminated with optical silicone on glass.
A lot of this window is hand painted, the glass is hand selected, and ‘stars’ are etched into the glass. A lot of extra work. But that makes all the difference.”
Another piece of hers at the Newman Center in the University of Missouri is 10X20 feet and is curved. Her inspiration for this place was a song, “Gather Us Into The Spirit”. “The thing that’s interesting about this is you’re trying to depict the Spirit, but the Spirit is invisible… How do you depict that? Usually,the symbol of a dove is used, but I wanted the feel of light, the feel of fathering something into the center.” Towards the end of the project she ran out of custom-made glass. She called up her supplier but he said he didn’t have much left but sent what he had. “He sent me three very differenct sheets than what I had designed, and in studying it, I said, ‘Oh my gosh’. These peices give it much more dimension that it would have otherwise. I had asked in the beginning for help from the Spirit, since I saw this window as a big challenge. Now I realized, I had been given just what I needed, in spite of myself.”
I was left in awe and even as I reflect on the art I’m amazed at what she was able to see from each space she visited and how she incorporated a piece of that place into the art. That speaks volumes as an artist to be able to listen and let inspiration find you. The melding of her talent with the soul of the location is something to be inspired by.
Every piece of work Elizabeth shared with us that day spoke volumes of her skill as an artist. I want you visit her website www.Devglas.com because we don’t have enough room in the magazine to display all that deserves to be shown. These are more than just glass windows. Every part of the display is there for a reason, each piece of glass created and worked on by hand, a personal endeavor from the commencement to the installation. This is the type of art that speaks to you, has a story to tell and is ever changing as is the light that illuminates it.