Clouds slowly shuffle apart, allowing a strong stream of light to break free and escape to the world below, captured only for a moment in colored shards of glass before splaying out on the sanctuary floor beyond. A scene, once shadowed, is illuminated. Suddenly, through light, one can detect the tiniest of details in the artwork: a closed eye, a splash of water, a word.
“I actually don’t love to revisit my work once it’s installed,” says Steve Wilson, a stained glass artist, of the windows he’s designed, constructed and installed in public institutions, private homes and churches throughout the South. “Ten percent of the work shines above the rest when the light comes through. I always think of things I could have changed or improved upon.”
For Wilson, the greatest satisfaction is completing the design portion of the job, and realizing that, on paper, it is good. Stained glass is a pragmatic medium that follows a clear roadmap, according to Wilson, so the early design is the most essential. It is also the most satisfying. But Wilson himself didn’t always follow a roadmap.
“I didn’t have a path or a goal when I started college,” says Wilson, who received an undergraduate degree in landscape architecture before obtaining an MFA with a focus on stained glass under Paul A. Dufour at LSU. “As a kid, I couldn’t get enough of rocks, especially translucent ones. And I appreciated water and its colors. All those things came together when I designed and constructed my first window.”
Decades—and many stained glass installations—later, Wilson is known throughout the South for creating majestic pieces of art that are both timeless and substantial, while being inspired and personal as well. He credits Dufour with teaching him to create contemporary expressions built in the traditional method. His purist approach with the glass and lead often stands in stark contrast to the contemporary design itself. It’s these designs that have helped Wilson stand out among his peers.
“When we are selected to do churches, if we get the nod, then I remind the group that hired us that it’s their church. It’s their imagery,” says Wilson. “They have to come up with what they want in the window, its colors and complexity. I then interpret it my own way within the medium.”
Wilson enjoys working with young people in the studio, many who are now making their own careers in art. Included in his list of favorites are Jill Thomas Whatley, Ellen Ogden, Danielle Inabinet, Maggie Long Lester, Michael Kron, Paul Jackson, Scott Campbell, Robert Moreland and Warren Simmons. He maintains that each has each lifted his studio to new heights.
“The greatest joy in making stained glass is finishing a good design that honors color and light. The windows created by LSU graduates around the country are usually recognizable because of their emphasis on color,” says Steve. “The narrative is important, but it is secondary to the medium of light transmitted through color. Our deceased, beloved professor Paul Dufour gave us all this powerful idiom and is what mostly affects interior spaces for worship or wonder.”