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Sunday, December 15, 2013

When artists retire

“This was the first window I did,” said Gowing. “The window represents Holy Communion with grapes standing in for wine, and to my delight, John found glass that looked just like matzoh, the original communion bread. He painted in the air holes and edges. To date, John still hasn’t ever seen a matzoh in person, but I keep meaning to send him a box.”

A graduate of Pratt Institute, Toby Gowing had a successful career as an illustrator, specializing in books for young-adult readers. From there, she moved to painting luscious still lives on Chinese antiques, which she sold throughout the Northeast.

The feeding of the five thousand, by Toby Gowing, John Warda and Lynn Julian. “The landscape in the background is typical of the Judean hills,” said Gowing.  “In all the windows John and Lynn picked certain greens and other colors to create continuity in the project.”  There will be eight windows in all.
When she told me she was retiring, I was baffled. Accountants retire; artists do not. Still, Gowing has a knack for listening to the still, small voice of God, and she has hardly been bored. Among other projects, she was asked by Louise Jasko of Monmouth Worship Center in Marlboro, NJ, to design windows for their newly built sanctuary. Gowing collaborates with glass artisans John Warda and Lynn Julian of White Haven, PA, who execute and install the windows.

Gowing's painting for The feeding of the five thousand, above.
Gowing feels her illustration background is the primary skill she brings to window design, and her painting and drawing chops allow her to accurately communicate her ideas to Warda. “He never asks, ‘Is this a fish or a flower?’ but he has told me when certain shapes or placements just won’t work,” she says.

A detail from the Four Seasons window, below, shows the collaborative nature of these windows. Artists John Warda and Lynn Julian sought the perfect glass for the crocuses, the nest, the branches, and the leaves.

“This is the most recent window, in which I was asked to make the Bible itself the subject,” said Gowing.  “By choosing Ecclesiastes 3:1 as the verse, I had opportunity to make the background (the four seasons) colorful and lively as a counterpoint to the plainness of the book pages. The red bookmark ribbon is a subtle reference to the sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ, which runs as a scarlet thread throughout the whole Bible. By continuing the line of the ribbon into the upper left hand corner through the movement of the pussy willow branch, and down to the bottom of the window through the tree branch which holds the birds nest, I remind the viewer that the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ is not confined to the pages of the Bible, but courses through all the seasons of our lives.”
How did she make the move away from oil painting? “I undertook a period of studying stained glass, particularly windows done by Tiffany studios, so that I could understand how to design for a new media,” said Gowing.  “Tiffany was a painter, and his approach in windows is painterly. This appealed to me.”

Gowing's painting for the Four Seasons window, above.
The glass designer can’t think primarily as a painter. “When I design, I am always thinking, ‘How will this work out in glass?  Will this line flow so that the leading will make sense and also add to the composition?  Is it possible to make this shape in glass?’” said Gowing.  She frequently talks with Warda as she works. “I ask him if a type of glass exists which would carry a particular image or create an effect.  There are thousands of types of glass which may be purchased, but we are limited by budget and time.”

John Warda installing The feeding of the five thousand at Monmouth Worship Center.
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