PETERSBURG, Va. (AP) - For nearly four decades, churchgoers have worshipped under the bright streams of light, patterns and religious figures in stained glass handcrafted by local artist Jerry A. Williams.
Williams has mostly designed windows for small rural churches across the state, and has a studio in his Halifax Street home.
One of his largest jobs locally is Harvest International Full Gospel Baptist Church on West Washington Street. Williams crafted and installed the stained glass for the 117,307 square foot church about 20 years ago.
Chief Apostle Mary P. Bonner, who heads the church, created the design - a patchwork of jewel-toned glass, from her own vision.
“I wasn’t about just building for people but I am a kingdom builder for the glory of God through the glory of God,” she said.
Bonner had the glass installed shortly after Harvest moved into the building. She said that there was a need to replace sheets of all-red glass that gave a harsh glare during services. Williams said that replacing the glass with his own creation took three months.
At the centerpiece of Bonner’s design is a white-haired angel with arms outstretched, envisioned by Williams.
The artist said that he took special care when choosing the glass that would form the angel’s skin.
“You try to get in between, that way you try not to offend anybody (and) so they will question it,” he said. “Artists always have a little something they keep to themselves.”
Williams, who is from Alberta, started working with glass at the age of 22, while serving in the U.S. Air Force near Great Falls, Montana. Williams moved to Petersburg 15 years ago and continued his art while he worked as a technician for Pepsi Bottling Group.
But he has always been fascinated by the art.
“I’ve been curious about this forever, how they do this in churches,” he said. “Ever since I was little I’ve always wanted to know how this is done. I’ve always been a curious sort of person.”
Williams picked the trade up from equally creative friends, skilled in trades.
“(I learned by) hanging around people that were about something, people that were building houses, doing things, going to school,” he said.
Williams takes the time to cut each piece of glass with a manual glass cutter, after he has drawn a design that plans the colors in the artwork, and the measurements of each piece.
These days, Williams says he is not taking as many risks as he would as a younger man.
“No more standing on ladders all day long, those days are gone,” he said.
But through the years, work in large cathedrals that hasn’t been his main passion. Williams has enjoyed creating windows for rural churches in Virginia.
At these churches, parishioners are quick to lend a hand, admire your work and invite you over for a meal.
“It’s not so much hurry up, budget. Out in the country, it’s nice,” he said. “The city is the big boys, the negotiators.”
Now, Williams is largely retired from crafting glass for churches, but still receives letters thanking him for a job well done.
“You do it right the first time,” he said.
Information from: The Progress-Index, https://www.progress-index.com
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