IU Bicentennial grant helps IU Southeast students learn high art of stained glass

23rd October 2019
IU Southeast Chancellor Dr. Ray Wallace unveils the IU Bicentennial stained glass window with the assistance of Donna Baldacci (l) and Donna Stallard, joined by students Katrina Dennis and Alyssa Paro, and stained glass apprentice Jude Martinez. Photo by Hannah Saxe.

By Steven Krolak

(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–Ooohs and ahhs filled the Ogle Center lobby as Chancellor Dr. Ray Wallace unveiled a unique stained-glass artwork created by IU Southeast students and faculty.

The artwork, which was funded by a grant from the Office of the IU Bicentennial, is the result of a unique partnership between IU Southeast and The Stained Glass Gallery of New Albany.

The partnership began simply enough when Donna Stallard, professor of fine art, ventured into the shop to find some art glass. She had been awarded the grant, and now needed the supplies to make the window, and remembered the business from its former location in Clarksville.

She was disappointed to learn that the gallery no longer sold art glass, but excited to discover artistic soul-mates in Donna Baldacci and Kirk Richmond, co-owners of the gallery, who offered to collaborate with Stallard on the project.

One thing led to another. At Donna Baldacci’s suggestion, Stallard simplified her concept to a more manageable size and scope, and asked three students to join her–three she knew she could count on to see it through: Katrina Dennis, Alyssa Paro and Lynn Quire. (In the end, Quire had to withdraw due to focus on her own small business.)

The Stained Glass Gallery is one of a dwindling number of traditional stained glass restoration studios in America. Now located in a former church, the studio specializes in large scale liturgical, commercial and residential design and fabrication, with a strong track record in restoring historically significant art glass panels for religious and public spaces as well as private residences. For this project, the owners donated their time and expertise as mentors, along with the support of their apprentice, Jude Martinez.

“Donna and Kirk did this out of graciousness and passion for the craft,” Stallard said. “Words can’t describe my gratitude.”

It takes decades to become proficient in art glass fabrication–Stallard and her students had mere weeks to execute the geometric sunburst with the “IU” logo at the center and a variety of shapes radiating outward.

Stained glass is a unique medium on many levels. It is a rigid substance whose final effect is extremely variable.

“In painting, if you want a magenta flower, you paint it magenta,” Baldacci said. “But in our world, you have to consider the light source in order to decide how to achieve that color, depending on conditions like how the light is going to behave in different seasons, at different times of day, which direction the window is facing.”

That means having a good concept and selecting the right glass.

“You have to develop the skill set of understanding what that window is going to look like when it’s off your bench,” Baldacci said. “And if you make a mistake, it’s very difficult to undo.”

But that’s only the beginning. Equally challenging is working with glass, which seems at first to come in two types: unyielding and broken. True mastery involves exact measurements, subtle manipulation of cutters and snips, the right amount of pressure, and breathing. Stallard and her team put in the hours, and put up with the cuts.

Alyssa Paro (l), Donna Stallard and Katrina Dennis work out an aspect of stained glass window fabrication at The Stained Glass Gallery in New Albany.

“Every step is challenging,” said Dennis, a graphic design major from Charleston, South Carolina. “But it is so rewarding to see it come together.”

On the afternoon of its unveiling, sun shone through the south-facing windows of the Ogle Center lobby. Mounted in its wooden frame, the window transformed the rays into a dazzling display of color and mood, evoking admiration and inspiring reflection.

Ms. Betty Russo, vice chancellor for advancement, was awed by the craftsmanship revealed by the stunning piece of art, but also noted the successful outreach into the community that made the work possible.  

“Anytime we can gather together as a campus community, it creates an opportunity for friendship and fellowship with our colleagues,” Russo said. “Funding by the IU Bicentennial Office ultimately provided us this opportunity to come together and celebrate our exceptionally talented students and faculty.”

While it is too early to know if the project will seed more formal partnership, both Baldacci and Stallard hope that students will become more interested in stained glass restoration, a skill that is in danger of vanishing. And a positive sign is at hand: Paro, who worked on the window, has accepted an offer of employment at the Stained Glass Studio, working as an apprentice to Baldacci and Richmond.

In his remarks at the unveiling, Jim Hesselman, dean of the School of Arts and Letters, summed up the meaning of the window by drawing on the ancient spiritual connection of light and glass.

“For two centuries now Indiana University has had a physical and spiritual connection to this community,” Hesselman said. “And now light and glass have come together to commemorate that connection in celebrating and commemorating 200 years of Indiana University.”

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