By Susan Shinn
udy Trexler loves puzzles. She loves her church. She loves to volunteer.
So it’s no surprise that a task many would deem impossible ó the design, fabrication and installation of a set of stained-glass windows at the Lutheran Home at Trinity Oaks ó has gone so smoothly.
Trexler began the project in February, and gave herself a year to complete it. She’s enough ahead of schedule that it should be completed by fall. A dedication will follow the final installations.
“When I came here in 1981, the chapel area and the activity room had linoleum floors,” says Brenda Zimmerman, activity director. “I kept thinking we needed to do something more like a church.
“We had an altar and a cross, but it was still a sterile atmosphere. There was nothing that gave an aura to that area.”
Zimmerman thought that stained-glass windows would be a good addition.
But the time was never right, because she knew that at some point the facility would expand.
The wall of the chapel was in limbo because it was a potential area for expansion.
When it was determined that the chapel wall would remain in place, Zimmerman began to research stained-glass windows, but quickly found them cost-prohibitive.
Zimmerman mentioned the project to Trexler, 55, a retired educator and volunteer with St. John’s Lutheran Church.
“You know how things happen when you talk to Brenda Zimmerman,” Trexler says.
Developing a plan
Trexler agreed to do the project. More importantly, she decided to donate two-thirds of the cost, making the windows affordable for people to buy in honor or memory of loved ones.
Her studio, Light One Candle, is dedicated solely to non-profit projects.
Zimmerman cleared the project with the nursing home’s administration, and the two began to make plans.
Within a couple of weeks, Trexler presented Zimmerman with a plan for 40 stained-glass windows.
“It didn’t seem like it was an impossible task,” Trexler says, once she developed an overall design.
Each stained-glass window measures 16 by 20 inches.
In the event of any future construction, the windows have been installed over existing glass so that they can be removed. The windows can still be opened and closed.
In designing the windows, Trexler chose a matching scripture and song for each.
“She did a lot of research,” Zimmerman says.
Trexler knew she wanted the windows to begin with Alpha and end with Omega.
One set of windows tells the story of creation; other sets tell the story of Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter. Church symbols ó originally intended for the last row ó are sprinkled throughout.
All have a teal background, which Trexler felt provided a good contrast to the rest of the window.
Trexler won’t name a favorite.
“I don’t want any one to stand out,” she says. “It’s a total picture.”
“Just visually, it looks more like a church,” Zimmerman says. “It softens the space a lot. It will define the space between the main activity room and the chapel.”
Chaplain Darrell Norris agrees.
“Our chapel is used for so many functions by so many people,” he says. “Sometimes it is hard to remember we’re in God’s house.
“These symbols of faith will remind those who come to the chapel about God’s love and faithfulness.”
Windows go fast
A donation form was published in the nursing home’s March newsletter. Within a day or two, all were spoken for.
“We had a huge, huge response,” Zimmerman says.
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church honored their singalong volunteers with two windows.
“Those people have been coming for more than 25 years,” Zimmerman notes.
The staff on the nursing wing gave a window in honor of all residents.
Resident Ruth Brown chose the shepherd window with the Star of Bethlehem in memory of family members.
“Just the drawings I thought were really beautiful, but these windows are really pretty,” she says.
Karen Davis lives in Orlando. Her husband’s grandmother, Frances Davis, is a resident. Davis marshaled family members all over the country to contribute two windows ó Noah’s ark in honor of Frances and a dove in memory of the late Roscoe Davis, her husband.
“Grandmother is a religious person,” Davis says. “I thought this would be a fantastic project for the family to do as a whole.”
Because so many people donated to the project, Trexler is working on plans for two panels ó pastoral scenes illuminated by light boxes will be placed on either side of the cross.
With the help of a Catawba College intern, Zimmerman is putting a booklet together about the windows and panels which will include a list of donors.
Working at her own pace
Trexler has not worked on the windows in any particular order. She’s working at her own pace. She estimates that each window will take 25 hours.
“You count your pieces and you keep up with the time,” Trexler says of working with stained glass. “But I didn’t count all the pieces. I gave up.”The project is coming together well, Trexler says. “You’re not sure what it’s going to look like until you see it. Sometimes you’ve got to play with them.
“It’s going to be colorful. That’s what we were trying to do in delineating the chapel area.”
In the workshop
Trexler does all her work in the basement of her Salisbury home. Chloe, her 81/2-year-old mixed-breed dog, keeps her company. Husband Henry, also a retired teacher, keeps busy with projects of his own.
Trexler has assembled a considerable inventory of stained glass, from catalogs, from the Internet, from factories. She bought glass once from a factory in Pennsylvania on the way home from a trip to Chicago ó well, not exactly on the way home, she admits.
For the Lutheran Home project, she’s spread out all of the patterns on an old Ping-Pong table.
“I had to make sure all the glass matched,” she says.
When she first started making stained glass about three years ago, she worked in a corner of the basement.
“It sort of exploded from there,” she says.
First, she draws the design, then cuts it out using pattern shears to allow for soldering.
Then she cuts the glass and grinds it, smoothing the edges so they’ll fit together more easily. She then applies copper foil tape to each piece, smoothing the edges before the pieces are soldered together with lead.
Then there’s the framing, the cleaning, the polishing.
It takes a lot of patience to work with stained glass.
Still, Trexler says, “I love to do this. I totally love to do this.”
On this particular afternoon, Trexler is installing five windows with the help of Van Fagan of Mocksville. Fagan is a former neighbor and fellow stained-glass artist.
The women triple check the order of the windows before installing each one with caulking. The windows are caulked on the sides, and Trexler casts a critical eye on the artwork, removing all traces of fingerprints with a soft brush.
Trexler explains the connection between her two hobbies. Stained glass, she says, is simply a gigantic puzzle.
“I’m just a little old retired lady,” she says. “Church work and stained glass are my two main things.”
Despite her considerable talent, Trexler remains humble.
“It’s for his honor, not mine,” she says.
nnnContact Susan Shinn at 704-797-4289 or email@example.com.
By Susan Shinn