Memory works in funny ways. With passing time, one event blends with another until, eventually, recollections stitch themselves together like an old patchwork quilt assembled from every leftover scrap lying about the house. Snippets of bright color or interesting texture catch the eye and off a mind goes following a bunny trail that may not go anywhere. I started following one of those winding, backtracking thoughts recently and found myself lost in a mystery. I hope someone can help me find answers.
Since I was tiny, I’ve loved stained glass windows. I enjoy the varying hues, the stories each scene tells, and the way sunlight glows through, tinting everything in its path. Magically, words of hymns and sermons seem to float in that radiant light like waltzing dust motes during Sunday services. My first memories link to the sanctuary windows in the Methodist Church in Meade, Kansas. I loved how distant artists depicted Bible stories and characters in vibrant colors that seemed richer than any shade I could create with my crayons and paints.
Not long after these religious panels engaged my toddler attention, a relative moved into an Victorian two story with a gorgeous stained glass window at the stairway landing between the first and second floors. My cousins and I loved sliding down those stairs, which means we had to climb to that midway point to launch our speedy descents. I don’t know that anyone else dawdled on the way up, but I did. Sunlight radiating through that jewel-toned melted silica joined by lead strips dazed my senses enough that I didn’t feel a single bump on the way down.
Even now, my heart starts beating faster when I discover century-old buildings that contain their original stained glass. Apparently, a goodly number of early settlers found a way to put at least one decorative window in their home or business. For those on a strict budget, that might mean four tiny squares of color soldered in each corner of a rectangle or square. Well-to-do families had more options.
Those with fatter wallets might incorporate several ornamental windows throughout their home. Almost every long-established community has several of these two or three storied houses replete with decorative gingerbread, wrought iron fence work, and stunning glass throughout the property. These make me recollect a world with fewer distractions than ours has. What a joy it would be to look up to see sunlight streaming through amber, lavender, cobalt, ruby, and emerald tones while you were dusting, scrubbing, or cooking.
A trip to Cottonwood Ranch in Studley reveals excellent examples of such a home. The Pratt family members were among the first permanent settlers in that region. Mrs. Pratt immigrated from greener landscapes and struggled with the monotony of her new homeland. To help, her husband built a lovely ranch. Modern visitors see the evidence as they travel from room to room, admiring colorful glasswork in nearly every window.
Here’s the mystery. I want to know where early Kansans bought these windows. I did learn factories that produced these arts works weren’t local. So far, I’ve discovered that some of the big Catholic churches ordered their panels from either the East Coast or Europe. I can’t imagine the shipping costs on these breakables. What intrigues me even more is knowing every little town in this area had homes and churches decorated with these lovely works of art. Where did they come from and at what cost?