Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Stained Glass Windows of Carol Lapari

In the world of artistic creation, stained glass windows hold a special place. They are beautiful to behold, and, when installed in church walls, they have been telling Bible stories long before most people could read. But mostly, they play with light, coloring it, giving it texture and meaning, and captivating onlookers with their almost mystical version of reality.

In Covington, Carol Lapari is a stained glass artist who is widely appreciated for her wonderful designs, attention to detail, and the considerable amount of work she has produced over the past 35 years. 

 The glass for her projects comes in two by three foot sheets of every color, texture, and opacity. Her vertical cabinet of raw materials supplies her with everything she needs to keep the artistic creations coming. 

She has a workshop on Jefferson Avenue where she places hundreds (sometimes thousands) of pieces of broken glass of all shades of color into her carefully drawn designs, inserts short pliable strips of lead in between them, and solders them all together in a sturdy window frame. Not only is it a work of art, but it is also a work of engineering to keep everything together and in place for years to come.

Click on the images to make them larger. 

Started in the 1980's
She started attending LSU right out of high school, but after three semesters, when she got married, she and her husband, a chemical engineer, moved to the east coast to a job opportunity. She had always enjoyed drawing, so she started studying art at a university there. When her husband got transferred to Baton Rouge, she returned to LSU as an adult student to finish her degree work.

She decided to check out the classes in their stained glass program, thinking it was a logical addition to her art studies. When she walked into the class and saw all the color samples, she was mesmerized. She immediately changed her major to stained glass.

"I love the way stained glass transforms the light," she says. "It was the color of the glass samples hanging in the windows of the LSU classroom that captivated me from the very beginning. I immediately knew I was in the right place." She was awarded a
Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, with a concentration in stained glass. 

The couple came to Covington as a result of another job opportunity for her husband, and he retired this past January. All this time, she continued her pursuit of enhancing the beauty of light through stained glass. 

Although creating a stained glass window can be complex and challenging, she developed the skills needed, from drawing the initial sketch, to cutting the glass into the proper shapes, and then bringing it all together in a frame. 

She thinks that anyone with the right about of patience and attention to detail can make a stained glass window. "Doing the design is the hardest part of it," she said, and that's where her artistic skills for drawing and painting come to the forefront, because every stained glass window starts with a purposeful design.

The Design 

Sometimes the message is the beauty of nature, other times the message is the boldness and daring of historical figures. But more often than not, stained glass window design strives to provoke emotions tied to the viewer's sense of wonder, of beauty and even memorable events. The window she is working on now will go high up in a window on a wall in a room that overlooks the Bogue Falaya River. The stained glass window portrays iris plants along the water's edge. 

This window involves 400 pieces of glass, the 24 foot tall church window pictured below took thousands and thousands of pieces of glass.

It is the design, plus a thorough knowledge of how different kinds of stained glass (its color, tint, opaqueness, and texture) control and filter light. It is the light from behind it that makes glass and lead become a magical work of art, so from an artist's perspective, it calls for the ability to imagine what needs to be done to bring about that meaningful experience.

Sometimes a client will give her an idea of what they would like, other times they ask her to create what she feels is best for the situation. There are also the abstract designs that just play with light, and the representational designs that suggest a scene or feeling. 

"The designs are always different," she explains. That requires some serious amounts of creativity, and that is what keeps her intrigued and motivated. She has a large collection of intial designs for the windows, designs that are beautiful sketches, done in watercolor, that are outstanding on their own. So doing stained glass is like two art forms in one. 

The design sketch for a 24 foot tall window in a Baton Rouge church. 

How long does it take to do a window? It all depends on how intricate the design, and the number of pieces in the window. 

The Glass

Knowing the intricacies of different types of glass helps. "This is mouth-blown German glass," she explains, holding up a triangle of glass. "They blow a cylinder, cut it and roll it out over straw. That gives it this unusual texture." The glass makers also put different chemicals in the glass to give it different hues of color, and they can also create bubbles in the glass for additional interesting characteristics. 

The very first stained glass panel she made was about a foot square, and it used various thicknesses of lead strips, incorporated different curves and shapes, a sort of showcase of stained glass making skills. She keeps it in her shop as a reminder of how far she has come.

The very first window she made

Church Windows

Her work appears in a number of churches, particularly in the Baton Rouge area. One extremely large window was 24 feet tall. There's a steady demand for her work among churches, but she also does commercial work, including one window highlighting a corporate logo, and residential installations requested by homeowners and architects.

She did a number of windows for a church in Baton Rouge, but those were lost in a fire that destroyed the church. It was devastating to think that two years of intricate work went up in flames. She was quite distraught, walking through the debris, when a neighbor who witnessed the collapse of the window described it to her. "All that work, I had cut every piece, and did it all myself, and it was gone," she recalls sadly. 

The church window designs

Her vision for the future? "You know, people retire from their jobs, but an artist never needs to retire. Doing stained glass can be physically challenging though. It involves standing for hours and leaning over a work in progress, plus it's intricate work, and a lot of steps are involved." All that is part of the process one assumes
while being a stained glass artist.

Do her two children show artistic leanings? In some ways they do. "I believe art is hereditary," Lapari states. "My great aunt was very artistic, and now I see it in my grandchildren." 

So whenever you come across a stained glass window, stop for a moment to think about the artistic effort, the creativity, the hours and hours of precise cutting and positioning and soldering that went into it. Think of Carol Lapari and her many fellow artists who, over the past hundreds of years, have made buildings more attractive, and the beauty of sunlight even more so, through the visions of windows made of stained glass.