- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 19, 2002

Christmastime visitors to the Washington National Cathedral may coo at the creche exhibit and gasp at the sight of the giant Advent wreath. What really catches their eye is the cathedral's wealth of stained glass, 215 windows of it, a beauty at its best in this season of light.
What they don't see, at least most of the time, is the people who made this art and the impulses that moved them to do it.
Look first at the windows: The "Space" window, in the south wall, celebrating man's adventures in the heavens, displays subtle purples and midnight blues and a deep-red orb whose center is embedded with a sliver of lunar rock presented in 1973 by the astronauts of Apollo 11.
The "Suffering of the Jews" window, in the north wall, gives off vibrant reds and vivid oranges. It, too, has a stone within it, a piece of Jerusalem's Wailing Wall.
The George Washington Memorial Window, in the south wall, is serene in light blues and soft grays and is directly opposite the Abraham Lincoln Memorial Window, whose brash colors and disjointed glass call to mind a country torn, as it was during Lincoln's presidency.
The West Rose Window, also known as "The Creation," was designed by the artist Rowan LeCompte, fabricated by the stained-glass craftsman Dieter Goldkuhle and set into the west front portal of the cathedral in 1976. Twenty-five feet in diameter, it's an abstract impression of the world's beginnings that contains more than 10,500 tiny pieces of faceted glass, each its own prism.
Then look again, this time at the window that depicts John the Baptist baptizing Christ, and see what few ever have the opportunity to see: a lone craftsman on a scaffolding, repairing the baptistery window the very Dieter Goldkuhle, the master craftsman of stained glass who put together "The Creation" from Mr. LeCompte's design, still at the work he loves.
Mr. Goldkuhle removes from the window a small cardboard square he had placed there a few days before to block out the weather while he worked on its replacement. He leans out of the hole in the window and stares up into the sky until the sun, partially hidden by a cloud, fully emerges. Then he picks up the missing glass and holds it in the space. The sun's rays shine through the window, bathing him in the window's soft hues.
All his life, Mr. Goldkuhle has been fascinated by light.
"I became aware of light at an early age. Maybe it's because I grew up in the northern latitudes in Germany," he says. "During the long, dark months, I would hunger for it."
Later, in trade school, the passion grew when he was introduced to the intricacies of glass and its relationship with light.
"Light is the primary element of stained glass," says Mr. Goldkuhle. "It is exciting to manipulate it by reducing, refracting and even blocking it out. Light is the spirituality of a window."

In this season of light, the beauty of stained glass windows can be appreciated not only at the Washington National Cathedral, but at many churches and places of worship throughout the area.
"When I am on the altar and the sun streams through the stained glass, there is such a sense of holiness," says the Rev. John Stonesifer, rector at All Saints Church in Chevy Chase, which has 20 stained glass windows. "I know I am in sacred space."
Though the art form first appeared among the Egyptians as early as the second century B.C., stained glass as we know it dates to 11th-century Europe, where a colored stain was applied to glass during the making of religious panels. A few hundred years later, metals and minerals were added to molten glass, giving it a tinted look called "cathedral glass."
Louis Comfort Tiffany revolutionized the art in the 1870s, when he helped introduce opalescent glass, a milky opaque glass that reflects and scatters light through the suspension of tiny particles, to stained glass.
In the late 1800s, Tiffany opened a large studio in New York that produced thousands of stained glass windows, including four naval scenes in the U.S. Naval Academy chapel in Annapolis and an angel with wings fully extended located in St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Foggy Bottom.
"The piece is signed 'Tiffany Studios, New York,'" says the Rev. Phillip Cato, pastor at St. Mary's. "It was a gift from a parishioner in honor of Edwin Stanton, the secretary of war under Abraham Lincoln. The angel holds a domed bowl with the word, 'Peace' inscribed on it."
St. John's Episcopal Church, across from the White House, and St. Barnabas in Oxon Hill have windows created by a family of stained glass artisans, the Boertleins. Jed Boertlein's grandfather started Washington Art Glass in 1924 after he emigrated from Germany.
"As a boy, I would come to the shop and sweep floors," says Mr. Boertlein. "Then one day my father, who had learned the trade from my grandfather, showed me how to cut glass. It takes hundreds of hours of practice to get it decent.
"Over the years, I must have put in thousands, but though I've tried newer tools, none are better than these," he says, holding up his grandfather's gold filigreed pattern cutters.
Mr. Boertlein designs and fabricates stained glass windows for churches up and down the East Coast, including the Maypole Window at the Washington National Cathedral and the complete restoration of the windows at the first African American church in Maryland, the old Mount Moriah A.M.E. Church in Annapolis, now the Banneker Douglass Museum.
"Some of the windows only had a broken pane or two while others were completely gone. We had to repair and replicate, working from photographs and people's recollections," he says. "It was challenging, but not something we haven't done before. I'd say about 85 percent of our work is new design and restoration work for

Mr. Boertlein begins each new project by meeting with the window donor, church vestry or project manager to sort out their ideas about how they believe the window should appear. Then using his own experience and creativity, he creates the design. Drawn and colored on black cardboard measuring 10 by 14 inches, the design is, in itself, a work of art. After the approval process, Mr. Boertlein transfers the paper design onto a pattern from which the glass will be cut.
"When selecting glass, I try to find right color match rather than a specific type of glass," Mr. Boertlein says. "If the window will not be in direct sunlight, I might use a lighter hue to achieve the effect I am seeking, regardless of whether the glass is hand-blown from Europe or a less expensive domestic piece."
"Some of the more interesting stained glass windows that I have seen are memorials," says the Rev. Cato. "At one church where I used to preside, I was surprised to notice a zodiac sign in one of the windows. In another dedicated to a World War II pilot, there were many references to flight and his career."
Mr. Boertlein recently was asked to create a memorial stained glass window for a woman who asked that her sister be represented as an angel. She was specific as to the angel's dark hair and full figure. She also requested that at least one rose be portrayed, as it was her sister's favorite flower.
Around the angel and the dove above her head, Mr. Boertlein had added an aura. However, after reviewing the placement of the window, a sunny spot above the entrance, he realized that when the light shone through, any yellow or gold glass might make the angel and the dove appear, not exactly heavenly, but just the opposite as if they were on fire not the effect either he or the woman were looking for in what would be a centerpiece in the sister's church.
Mr. Boertlein revised the artwork, deciding to hand-shade the glass, painting on the aura instead of using a tinted glass. The result was a soft glow instead.
The woman was pleased, and the window is scheduled to be installed this month at Crooks Memorial United Methodist Church in Yorktown, Va., on the anniversary of the sister's birthday.
Taking a brief break from his repair work on the baptistery window, Mr. Goldkuhle says, "The creation of stained glass is not so different from an artist creating on an opaque canvas; only in stained glass, light is the canvas."
As he speaks, sunlight bursts through the windows on the north side of the nave, sparking the Suffering of the Jews window into a fiery blaze.
Mr. Goldkuhle stops in mid-sentence and watches until the sun ducks behind another cloud, and the brilliance fades.
"Light is such a force of nature," he says.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide