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Smith Memorial illustrates church with new stained glass windows

From Genesis to Revelations, and with East County scenes in between, the new art completes a 20-year project


The colored pencil renderings were no comparison.

One week, Smith Memorial Presbyterian Church saw the old, plain windows, and the next week, six stained glass panels illustrating Genesis through the Book of Revelations were installed.

“Now we see (the design) in its full glory,” said Gary Grimes, a church leader and member of the sanctuary windows committee. “Our goal was to use these windows not only as an artistic display, but to have a message.”

The early June installation brought a 20-year project full circle, with Portland glass artist David Schlicker returning to create complementary windows to those he designed for the sanctuary’s northern wall in the 1990s.

“Windows have in their requirements that they be complex enough to always hold the viewer’s interest — that the viewer always be able to find something new and not take them for granted,” Schlicker said. “I think the fact that we used some transparent blown glass with more opaque, rolled glass lends itself to fluctuate with its impact on viewers.”

Schlicker replaced the original, 1957 sanctuary windows that were in plain, symmetrical patterns 20 years ago. They were artistic, perhaps, but lacked a deeper message.

Schlicker’s work was inspired by a list of scriptures church members sought to illustrate as a three-step story, beginning on the left with Genesis.

In the center, the church wanted to talk about its 120-year history, followed by symbols of the new Jerusalem.

“On one hand, you see the river flowing out of the Garden of Eden that becomes the Columbia River with monoliths like Rooster Rock,” Grimes said. “That leads into panels representing farmland in the early years (of East County).”

Little granules of glass signify berry fields, as lifelong member, William “Alan” Townsend, began Townsend Farms in the early 1960s and was a church elder and leader.

The bowl of incense to the left represents a segue from the church and Fairview community into John’s Revelation, with “the word of God coming from the cloud like a trumpet.”

“The artist just amazed us with his craft,” Grimes said. “You see the wings of the angels — the glass with that natural coloring that reminds him of the feathering effect of an angel’s wings.

“These are not traditional stained glass windows, with all the details painted in and fused into the glass. The artist has a vast inventory of glass in different colors, thicknesses, textures and opaqueness that he uses. It’s a modern style of art.”

Grimes said the stained glass project cost about $40,000 in total, and most of the funds were raised through donations made in memory of church members.

A memorial plaque to the left of the new windows honors dozens of longtime church members with deep roots in East Multnomah County.

Among the honorees are Alan Townsend, the Rev. Elwyn Slider Steuernol, pastor of Smith Memorial from 1981-94 during the first glass art installation; and charter members of the congregation.

Two years after beginning the design process for their second wall of stained glass, church members are hoping the pieces spur conversation for years to come.

“We’ll schedule a Sunday service that focuses on the windows and their intended imagery in September, but in the interim, we wanted people to not be influenced by suggestion and to let people draw from their own experience of what the windows mean to them,” Grimes said.

To learn more about Smith Memorial’s new stained glass windows, call 503-667-6800 or visit smithmemorialpres.org.




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