Liturgical Stained Glass – the Process

Jonathan Mayer (Cochrane, Wisconsin USA)

Archived discussion

About the presenter

Jonathan Mayer grew up on the outskirts of Omaha, Nebraska, encouraged in art by his parents and family. His grandfather, a Lutheran minister, especially set him on a path of illustrating the faith through art. He earned a BA in Studio Art at Bethany Lutheran College in 2007 and an MFA in Illustration from Savannah College of Art and Design in 2011. In 2012-13 he taught art history at Concordia University Nebraska, and wrote the art curriculum for Wittenberg Academy, teaching online classes for six years. He has been a liturgical artist (Scapegoat Studio) for over ten years, and since 2018 he has designed stained glass windows for Associated Crafts & Willet Hauser in Winona, Minnesota. He and his wife Emily live in Cochrane, Wisconsin, with their five children.

Conference host's note:

You will enjoy this excellent 10½ minute video showing how stained-glass windows are crafted, made for this conference by Jonathan Mayer who is a studio designer at Associated Crafts & Willet Hauser. Check also his Scapegoat Studio website.



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Tom Kuster (The Christ in Media Institute) 2021-10-24 3:27:32am
A really well-put-together video, Jonathan. What's your view on the current status of liturgical stained glass? Is it trending up or down? Are a lot of churches interested in adding this beauty to their worship places? Or is it becoming more a thing of the past?
Jonathan Mayer 2021-10-26 9:18:51pm
Liturgical stained glass appears to be alive and well. We are seeing strong liturgical revivals among Catholics and Lutherans, and even among less liturgical bodies, stained glass is seen as an important way to beautify the church and teach the faith.
Judy Kuster 2021-10-24 4:54:48pm
What an amazing and painstaking process with art skills at many different steps along the process. I’ve also loved stained glass windows in churches and now have a greater appreciation for the artists throughout the centuries and currently who have created them. Are there different skills along the process that can be (or are) completed by different individuals? Can the process be accomplished by one artist from start to finish? Restoring the beautiful window in Notre Dame will take a very long time (if ever) to accomplish.
Jonathan Mayer 2021-10-26 9:31:53pm
The process can be done by a single artist from start to finish, but that limits the size and scope of the project. If a window takes 5,000 man-hours to make, it will take a lot longer for one person to put in the work (2.4 years) than 20 people (6-8 months?). The large stained-glass studios of the early 20th Century economized by having artists specialize in one area (design, cartooning, selecting, painting, etc.). That's our approach, too. After the cartooning process, it gets passed to the next department and our contact with the project grows less and less.
Rev. Jeff Hendrix (Faith Lutheran Church, Oregon, WI) 2021-10-26 8:09:37pm
This is phenomenal. So many steps in the process! Very cool to see your work, Jonathan.
Paul Grubbs (Martin Luther College) 2021-11-01 10:45:21pm

Thanks for this video walking through a stained glass window's journey from initial sketches to installed reality. My father crafted stained glass lamps and small panels when I was growing up, so it was fascinating to see how that hobby scales up for far larger and more complicated projects like the Pentecost-themed effort in this clip. My dad never included any glass painting - the multiple coats and kiln firings required for precise shading sounded time-intensive and staggering.

I wondered if you could share some information about a few favorite projects you've had the opportunity to assist with during your time at Associated Crafts & Willet Hauser. Are there any that might be available for public viewing at a church or other facility? By the time I concluded your video, I wanted to get in my car and drive wherever the panels that served as your focus here were installed to see the results at full size and in person. Are there some places we might be able to stop and see some of the work that has made you most proud during your time in this field?

Thanks again for your short film tutorial regarding the creative process for liturgical stained glass. It was especially interesting to see how ancient and digital technologies combine to create these unique works of art.
Jonathan Mayer 2021-11-06 3:57:09pm
Hi, Paul. Thanks for your enthusiastic comment and questions. The big projects are certainly time-intensive—many of them are in the studio for over a year. Because we do work all over the country, I seldom get to see the final results installed. One exception was a large project we recently finished for St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church in Omaha, NE. I grew up in Omaha, so I got to stop in and see them when I visited recently. The large figure on the horse near the end of the video (10:05) is one of two large transept windows I worked on for that church. The figures are about twice life-size, so it was both technically challenging and visually impressive. We have an ongoing commission with the church, so there will be many more windows to follow.

The St. Patrick window that I followed through most of the video is part of a series that is still being painted, but they'll be installed in Idaho when complete. I wish there were more churches in the upper midwest that we have recently done work for. I'm sure with more time at the studio, we'll land some jobs closer to "home."
Robert Koester (retired WELS pastor) 2021-11-03 10:12:34pm
I have a few questions for a professional stained glass artist. My skill doesn't go much beyond, Hey, these are really pretty. I wonder how they can be photographed.
First, do you find that stained glass installation is limited to wealthy churches? If a church came to you for a bid, say, on the windows you describe in your video, what rule of thumb do you use? Square footage? Particulars about the stained glass required?
Second, is cost a prohibitive factor in a church not installing glass, or is it more a lack of awareness or lack of interest?
Third, is interest in stained glass on the rise or is it waning?
Fourth, how to you suggest a church protect its windows and keep them clean. Does your studio get involved in that end of the work?
Fifth, are there any services available to help churches put up their own windows?
Sixth, a technical question. Do stained glass designers make any allowance for the angle at which a window will be viewed. That is, do they adjust the aspect ratio so a figure, for example, looks more natural when viewed by someone standing below it? I know people will view windows from different angles. I'm just curious if stained glass artists are concerned about that.
Thanks for your work!
Jonathan Mayer 2021-11-06 4:46:45pm
Hi, Robert. Thanks for your questions!
1) I wouldn't say stained glass is limited to wealthy churches. We do aim for high-dollar commissions, but we have a breadth of experience that allows us to work within a range of budgetary requirements. The complexity of the design, the amount and level of painting, etc. will of course affect the bottom line. To bid a job, we multiply the square footage of glass by a numerical factor that represents the relative complexity (pieces per sq. ft., figurative vs. symbolic, abstract, etc.). That's all based on years' worth of data collected that figures in the time and labor at different levels of complexity. So we can be fairly precise in bidding a job.

2) Cost is indeed a factor, though I think there is a sub-culture within Lutheranism that is unaware or uninterested in stained glass and other "high church" things. In the Omaha area, for instance, most of the churches in our fellowship were built since the 60's, and there was not much interest in stained glass. Indeed, even if the congregation suddenly became interested, the architecture often didn't anticipate or allow for that sort of thing. So my interest in stained glass has come fairly recently—and certainly wasn't due to early exposure to the art.

3) My perception is that interest is increasing. (But that could be in part because I grew up totally unaware of the art.) I think that while the younger generations are saturated in new media, there is a growing longing for things that are permanent and rooted in tradition and culture. That certainly fits with the liturgical renewals that many churches are seeing. We want church to be something "other"— a break from a fast-paced consumerist society. Stained glass is wholly unlike a video screen. It is just there—teaching the faith unflinchingly day after day, year after year.

4) Stained glass does require some maintenance—from occasional cleanings to full restoration. Many studios get a portion of their income from restoration work, ours included. Stained glass will last a long time, but not forever. Eventually the forces of nature cause the lead to weaken and oxidize, heat and moisture buildup can cause sagging and buckling, and so windows need to be removed and re-leaded every hundred years or so. Protective coverings can also be installed that allow air flow to the interior, extending the life of the stained glass.

5) I'm not sure if you mean installation? There might be installation jobs that are within the skillset of your congregation's handyman, but installation is such a small part of the labor of making a stained glass window that I'm not sure you'd save anything by doing it yourself. And depending on the location of the windows, there may be ladders, scaffolding, or lifts involved; it's just not the sort of thing you want to DIY. If an accident occurs during installation (and it does happen occasionally), you definitely want it to be on the company that made them—not on you.

6) We do consider point of view, but not to the degree that we would distort a figure to look 'normal' from one particular angle. You do have to be careful with figures though, because often one is tempted to draw them from slightly above. (That's especially true of me, because I'm a head taller than average.) But if you take a drawing made from an overhead angle, blow it up life-size, and view it from an extreme low angle, it would look quite unnatural.
Robert Koester (retired WELS pastor) 2021-11-07 8:46:25pm
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. I appreciate your answers.

My son is pastor at Gethsemane in Omaha. I think they fit your description of a 1960's type church.


Isaiah Johnson (Martin Luther College) 2021-11-04 7:30:59pm
Mr. Mayer,

Thank you for this very informative video of the process of stained glass making. I truly thought before that all it was involved was painting a solid piece of glass and then adding lines to separate each color. There is a lot of time and effort that goes into the art as you showed. Truly, technology has helped to save time, money, and error as you have stated. I am a big proponent of liturgical church symbolism and the like, and stained glass is one of the best ways of showing symbolism. It is often overlooked.

My question for you would be if you see any future advancements in the art? What ways will technology, or anything else, help with the process of creating stained glass? Is it possible that in the future, a digitalized machine will be able to do the whole process alone?

Thank you for your time in sharing this amazing project with us! It is definitely an art that needs to be appreciated!
Jonathan Mayer 2021-11-06 5:10:36pm
Hi, Isaiah. Thanks for your question.

There are existing technologies that can reduce labor in certain areas, but they are not without drawbacks. For instance, there are water jet machines that can cut pieces of glass with laser precision. But while it can save labor, it also creates more waste (unusable scrap glass), and the advantages really aren't apparent until you're doing huge jobs with lots of repetition. There are companies that "print" ceramic inks onto solid sheets of glass and call it "stained glass." But it will never have the transparency, brilliant color, or refractive properties that mouth-blown glass has.

It's difficult to see very far into the future, but making stained glass is more of an art than a manufacturing process, and for that reason it doesn't seem like the kind of thing that could ever be automated. And, I don't imagine that that end result would be a desirable one. The technology we have helps us go from one step to the next with less time and labor, and those advances are certainly welcome.

Think about it, too, from the perspective of vocation. When a stained glass window is made, it passes through the hands of maybe 20 people. Not every person in the studio has faith, but many do, and every time they touch the window it is a labor of love—for God, and for their neighbor. And God is providing an income for those craftsmen through their labor. And so especially when we are considering something made for a church, it should probably make a difference to us whether that object was crafted by hands of faith, or whether somebody just pressed a button that said "print."
Haden Werner (Martin Luther College) 2021-11-04 8:33:10pm
Mr. Jonathan Mayer,

Thank you for putting this informative tutorial video together. It has given me a renewed perspective on how stained glass windows are made and put together to make beautiful art within our church buildings. My home congregation has a few stained glass windows, but they are not nearly as complex as the ones you were showing in the video. I am amazed at all the detail you can fit into one small section of a window.

My church’s building has been around for approximately 80 years, and we have been using it since the late 1950’s. The stained glass windows have faded over the years, but the pictures still are fairly recognizable. My question for you is this: what is the cost to have a stained glass window restored? Is there even a way to have the colors made more vibrant and the lead replaced so that the windows can be enjoyed for many generations to come? I’m guessing it varies on the size of the window and complexity of the design, but what would be a ballpark figure on the cost? We have three skinny but tall windows with designs in front, a large back window, and average size windows along the side.

I know this may be a hard question to answer without pictures, but thank you for your time considering the limited information I have given to you. Thank you again for putting together this awesome video; I have learned a lot about how stained glass windows are made!
Jonathan Mayer 2021-11-06 5:21:13pm
Hi, Haden. Thanks for your questions. I'm afraid I can't give you anything like a cost to restore your windows. Even if I had more information, I have nothing to do with pricing. What you are describing sounds like paint loss, and that's a difficult thing to deal with. Color can be naturally existing in the glass, or it can be added by applying vitreous paints and enamels and firing them in the kiln. Sometimes with antique windows the paints were not fired to the right temperature, which affects the adhesion, and so they begin to flake off over time. There is really no way to reverse that. But if enough of the image is left that it is recognizable, sometimes a replacement piece can be made and patched into the window. Depending on how extensive the losses, and how many pieces need replacing, it could exceed the cost of new windows. Figurative work would be the most expensive, due to the difficulty of matching the shading, flesh tones, and style of paint application.
Justus Borgwardt (Martin Luther College) 2021-11-04 11:02:07pm

This video was tremendously eye-opening for me. Your work is beautiful, and many churches have been blessed through you. I always see these beautiful windows in churches without ever considering all the hours of labor that must be put into them.

After watching your video, I have a few questions. The designs shown in your video are very intricate, but many of the churches I’ve visited have much simpler stained windows. I get the feeling that simpler stained glass windows are becoming more popular due to the craze in minimalistic architecture. Is the process any different when working with more modest windows? Also, how long can stained glass windows last?

Thank you again for the hard work and time you devote to crafting these beautiful pieces of work and for sharing the process with us. It was intriguing to see how it is done because I never have before.
Jonathan Mayer 2021-11-06 5:36:53pm
Hi, Justus. Thanks for the comment and questions. Simple stained glass windows can be beautiful, too, though I'm not sure if I can comment on whether their popularity is growing or not. Even in 120-year-old churches, you'll sometimes find simple grid or diamond pattern glass. Sometimes a decorative stencil would be applied to each piece, to give it some ornate texture. And there might be a small medallion with a church symbol in the center. That was a cost-effective way to fill a church with stained glass that did not cost exorbitant amounts of money, and still had the ability to teach. The design process would be much simpler, because a single design could be used for all the windows, and stencils would make the process of repeating a design quite easy. We still use some of those same techniques on windows today.

Minimalist architecture often doesn't consider stained glass—or if it does, it prefers something entirely abstract that will not compete with the structure. Unfortunately, it's rare to find an architect who will consider stained glass from the outset, and work to incorporate it into a harmonious whole.

Stained glass is a pretty resilient medium, assuming the paints are all fired properly, and can last for centuries. The lead cames, on the other hand, will oxidize and start to lose their structural integrity within 60-100 years, depending on how well they are cared for and the conditions they were installed in. So some maintenance is necessary. Protective coverings and proper air flow will ensure the maximum life of the windows. Every century or so windows should be cleaned and re-leaded, to be ready for the next 100 years.
Nathan Helwig 2021-11-05 2:33:03am
Hi Jonathan! I recently graduated from Nebraska Lutheran high school, and I have always been fascinated with your artistic skill. It is very impressive to see your talents shine through the windows as you use your gifts to make stained glass windows. I am sorry for that terrible pun, but I think it needed to be said. I have always found that a church with stained glass windows is stunning. A question that came to my mind while watching your video is how the market for stained glass is treading? My hope for stained glass is that many churches is that they still use it to make their place of worship beautiful. The reason this question came about is because I haven't seen as many churches make use of stained glass. When I say churches, I am referencing the newer, modern buildings that are being used for worship. Thank you for showing exactly how stained glass is created. Your work is brilliant and I hope it continues to blossom. God bless.
Jonathan Mayer 2021-11-06 5:47:39pm
Thanks for the compliments, Nathan! I appreciate the pun as well. :) I am not sure if there is any hard data on hand as to whether stained glass is trending up or down. But in my limited field of view, it seems surprisingly healthy. Like many industries, we were worried that churches would be hit hard by the shut-downs and subsequent recession, and the result would be a drop in sales. But the Lord saw fit to bless many congregations with increased offerings, and we haven't seen any decreased interest in stained glass. I think that, together with the liturgical renewals that are happening in Catholic, Lutheran, and other historically liturgical churches, seems to indicate a healthy (perhaps increasing?) interest in liturgical art in general and stained glass in particular.

I also hope more churches make use of stained glass. It beautifies worship, transforming the space, and it is such a rich opportunity for catechesis.
Natalie Hueske (Martin Luther College) 2021-11-05 5:11:39pm
Jonathan Mayer,

I attended Nebraska Lutheran High School and always thought the mural in front of the gym was so unique! It is so encouraging to see how you are using your gifts to serve the Lord today! I have always loved stained glass in my church and others, but I never realized how tedious of a process it was. Thank you for walking me and others through the entire process - from the idea’s conception to the finished product. It is always eye-opening to get a glimpse into other people’s careers and callings.

As I watched your video, I couldn’t help but be curious about whether your work is mainly in new buildings or if you replace windows in older churches as well? If so, is it more difficult working with a new church with a relatively blank canvas or an old church with rich history, themes, and traditions?

Thank you again for giving your time to present on such a fascinating topic! I am excited to see how the stained glass industry continues to incorporate technology without compromising its hand crafted nature and feel.
Jonathan Mayer 2021-11-06 6:38:43pm
Hi, Natalie. Great question. Most of the design work we do is for new churches. It is very rare for a church to want to replace its old windows with new ones—the exception being if the windows were perceived as being particularly ugly. That does happen, unfortunately, but it happens more often with work done by amateurs. A well-meaning member of the congregation, for instance, dabbled in stained glass and made some windows for the church. Or, windows were made in a "contemporary" style in the middle of the last century, which didn't fit the architecture of the older building, and/or the style is now perceived as distasteful. So that happens on occasion.

Usually, churches aim for uniformity. We have had a few commissions where a new church wanted to utilize a set of antique windows, but they included more openings than they had windows to fill them. So we made new windows in the style and technique of the existing antique windows. I don't know if it's any more difficult matching old windows than designing with a blank slate. Certainly each has its own challenges.
Meg Zabell (Martin Luther College) 2021-11-05 6:35:09pm
Mr. Mayer,

It’s truly astounding to see the amount of time and effort put into these stained glass windows! I never thought of how big of a process creating stained glass windows is. By creating most of the window by hand, you really present how time and talent are a huge part of stewardship. The intricacy in the shading is absolutely mind-boggling to me -- as someone who loves art myself, I could never imagine creating something so beautiful, especially on a medium like glass!

One thing I did wonder while watching your video is how much do these pieces go for? I’m sure there is a pretty large price gap between the smaller, more simplistic ones and the gigantic, highly-detailed ones, but on average, what do they sell for? With all the time and dedication put towards these (hundreds of hours -- wow!), I bet quite a bit. I would absolutely love to see some of these windows in real life sometime!

Thanks again for this wonderful explanation of how these stained glass windows are created! It really puts things in perspective to see the whole process.
Jonathan Mayer 2021-11-06 7:01:54pm
Hi, Meg. Prices are a hard thing to give a ballpark for, but jobs with painted glass typically range from $50,000 to $2 million. It depends a lot on the complexity of the design (whether it is figurative, symbolic, or abstract), the level of painting, the square footage of glass, the number of pieces per square foot, etc. We have years' worth of data that we've tracked that can help us price a window pretty accurately—knowing how size and complexity affect the amount of labor it will require.