Artists in stained glass illuminate new Tucson hospital chapel

Together, 'Glass Goddess,' 'Gadget Girl' put their stamp on Carondelet hospital's windows
2013-04-21T00:00:00Z Artists in stained glass illuminate new Tucson hospital chapelVeronica M. Cruz Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 21, 2013 12:00 am  • 

After 40 years of creating colorful stained-glass windows, Mary Myers' career has come full circle.

In the early '80s Myers created 40 stained-glass windows for the chapel at St. Joseph's Hospital. Now those windows - along with a new six-panel window made with some of the same glass used in the original pieces - will be part of a new spiritual center at the hospital set to open this week.

For years Myers, 69, had sought a younger glass artist to pass along her knowledge of the art and business as she neared the end of her career. Then a mutual friend suggested she meet Teresa Karjalainen, a 42-year-old occupational therapist who had started working with stained glass five years ago.

"I'm in front of a glass goddess and she's just normal," Karjalainen recalled thinking during that first meeting. "I should be really so intimidated right now, she's just so amazing."

Myers was impressed with Karjalainen's work too.

"I saw two things I really liked. First of all, to do stained glass right you have to be very exacting and precise and I saw that she was," Myers said. "And I saw that she could be something that in the back of my head I had been hoping for for years, which is somebody to pass on my wisdom after being in this crazy field for 40 years."

Before she began fabricating the new window for the chapel, Myers fell and broke her wrist. She could no longer lift the heavy slabs of glass used for big projects and was left with a tremor that makes it difficult to cut glass.

So just two weeks after they met in early January, Myers asked Karjalainen to fabricate the window for her and the two began working closely together.

In the months since, Myers has taught Karjalainen her techniques, like how to use different-sized lead pieces to hold the glass together, creating variety in the size of lines in each piece.

Karjalainen, meanwhile, has shown Myers how a ring saw can cut glass into round and complex shapes without causing it to break.

"It's like old school meets Gadget Girl," Karjalainen said.

The "Glass Goddess"

Myers always wanted to be an artist, but she kept hearing that she couldn't make a living off her creativity.

So she studied political science at Smith College in Massachusetts and went to work for the U.S. Justice Department. But she still had a creative itch. In the '60s, while at a craft collective in Washington, D.C., she met a a self-taught stained-glass artist and enrolled in the woman's beginning class with her then-boyfriend.

"Within three or four lessons we were both hooked," she said.

They quit their jobs, opened a studio in Santa Fe, N.M., and apprenticed with an artist who taught them how to make church windows. The couple parted ways and Myers later took a job in New York with a studio that specialized in cathedral windows.

But she missed the Arizona light - she had lived here as a teen -and moved back in 1978.

Her glass depictions of animals, religious icons, flowers and Native American motifs are in churches and homes throughout Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado.

"Unlike other artists who are doing something autonomous like a painting that you can hang on the wall, my work really becomes part of the architecture," she said. "So it really needs to relate to the architecture, and it needs to relate to the purpose of the building."

In May 2011 she left her home of several years in Oracle, and moved to midtown Tucson - unbeknownst to her, only a couple of blocks away from Karjalainen.

The "Gadget Girl"

Karjalainen has worked with stained glass since taking a class at Tucson Glass Studio in 2008, the year after she moved to Tucson from Colorado and took a job with Tucson Unified School District. She also worked at Carondelet St. Joseph's Hospital on an on-call basis.

"When you're working in the schools you're sort of an island. You never see the other therapists. You're there just one day a week and you're not getting to know people so much and it was just really, really hard," Karjalainen said. "I needed something to pull me out of this funk ... and I said 'OK, I'm just gonna take a class' and I loved it. It spoke to me."

For her first project, she tackled a difficult piece with six irises that involved small pieces and curves so tricky the studio no longer teaches such designs to beginners.

She has since created stained-glass windows for friends and has even taught a few of them how to make their own art.

Still, when Myers asked her to help with the St. Joseph's project, Karjalainen was dumbstruck.

"I was very humbled and excited," she said. "I just couldn't believe the words that I was hearing."

With six different panels that make up one 8-foot-by-7-foot window, it's the largest project Karjalainen has ever worked on.

The women collaborated to select the right type of glass and colors to convey the theme of Myers' design, inspired by Psalm 23, "The Lord is my shepherd."

They say this will be first of many projects they will work on together.

The project

The project got its start in 1983, when Myers was commissioned to make stained-glass windows for the chapel at St. Joseph's Hospital.

The work included a giant, six-panel window depicting a sun and a fiery red sky with blue hills, inspired by the Santa Catalinas and Psalm 121, which begins, "I lift up my eyes to the hills." Several smaller windows were removed, crated and put into storage in 2006, when the chapel was razed to build a five-story addition to the hospital.

Myers' artwork from the original chapel was incorporated into the design for a chapel to be part of a new spiritual center at the hospital. The center also includes a meditation room and healing gardens. 

Because of a chance meeting last summer with a stranger at an art gallery, Myers was put in touch with the new chapel's architect and commissioned to restore the older panels and create a large new window for the meditation room adjoining the chapel.  

The design for the new window includes blues and reds similar to those used in the original chapel's altar piece. It depicts the Star of Bethlehem in the night sky, clouds, trees and a body of water.

Myers still had the hand-blown, hand-rolled European glass she used for the original chapel's windows. She incorporated it into the new design.

The new chapel is below a floor of surgical suites and doesn't get much direct light. That presented a challenge for the architect, Mark Bollard of Swaim Associates. The panels will be illuminated by an LED system that can be brightened during the day and dimmed at night.

"You can't walk into that chapel without being struck by that stained glass," said Sister Margaret Foppe, the hospital's chaplain. "It just speaks of raising your spirit and creation.

Myers, Foppe said, "has done a great service to God himself."

EDITOR'S NOTE

Photos of the installation will run in next week's Daily Star.

The chapel

The chapel at St. Joseph's Hospital, 350 N. Wilmot Road, and the Fred and Olga Pace Spiritual Center, built with funds from individual donors raised over the last six years by the Carondelet Foundation, will open with a special Mass by Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas Friday for invited guests. It will be open to the public Friday afternoon following the Mass.

Contact reporter Veronica Cruz at vcruz@azstarnet.com or at 573-4224.

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