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God’s stories in a new light

  • Dave Punches, Nancy Katz and Mark Liebowitz of the Wilmark Studios in Shelburne Falls with three of the 32 stained glass windows they are creating for a synagogue in New Jersey. Recorder/Paul Franz

    Dave Punches, Nancy Katz and Mark Liebowitz of the Wilmark Studios in Shelburne Falls with three of the 32 stained glass windows they are creating for a synagogue in New Jersey. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

  • The chapel in the Temple Emanu-El in Closter, N.J., where the stained glass panels of the creation story will replace the clear windows. Submitted photo.

    The chapel in the Temple Emanu-El in Closter, N.J., where the stained glass panels of the creation story will replace the clear windows. Submitted photo. Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dave Punches, Nancy Katz and Mark Liebowitz of the Wilmark Studios in Shelburne Falls with three of the 32 stained glass windows they are creating for a synagogue in New Jersey. Recorder/Paul Franz
  • The chapel in the Temple Emanu-El in Closter, N.J., where the stained glass panels of the creation story will replace the clear windows. Submitted photo.

SHELBURNE FALLS — For the past year, Mark Liebowitz, Nancy Katz and David Punches have been working to tell the Genesis/Biblical creation story within 32 panels of stained glass for a Closter, N.J., synagogue.

Soon, they will begin installing the panels where there are now clear-glass windows at the Temple Emanu-El.

The stained-glass panels tell the story of how God created the world in seven days, beginning with a cyclone-like swirl of when “the earth was Confusion and Chaos” and ending with God’s “covenant for the ages.” The panels have a basket-weave background of blues, browns, gold and umbers that darken and lighten with the daylight and twilights of the represented days. In between the “weaves” are faceted bevels that make some of the panels sparkle and glow with an other-worldly light. The repetitive phrase “God said,” which comes before each new creation, is an eye-shaped spiral.

All in all, about 1,500 labor hours will have been spent designing, drawing, fabricating and installing the panels, said Liebowitz, a stained-glass artist since 1975. “The total area is 362 square feet, made up of roughly 4,500 individual pieces of colored glass,” he said. The panels, set end to end stretch out to about 100 feet long. But they will be placed in an octagonal-shaped chapel just before “Rosh Hashana,” the Jewish New Year, begins on Sept. 24.

For Liebowitz, this is about the 50th stained-glass artwork for a church, temple or synagogue; for his wife, Nancy Katz, this is the fourth.

Before she met Liebowitz, Katz was primarily a fiber-artist whose hand-painted silk fabrics were often compared to stained glass, she said. The Buckland couple met in 2005 and Katz joined the stained-glass business in 2007. When they married in 2009, they created a Bridge of Flowers stained glass transom for Memorial Hall in Shelburne and gave it to the town in honor of their wedding.

David Punches of Greenfield, whom the couple dubbed “Miracle Dave,” has joined their Wilmark Studios in recent years. Punches brings portrait skills and glass-painting expertise that Liebowitz says “rounded out the range of what we can do.”

In stained glass, a layer of paint may be applied to the colored glass and “fired in.” Liebowitz said painted glass has been used to put faces into stained glass since medieval times.

The leaded stained-glass windows made in their William Street studio range from accent windows and skylights to commemorations and commissioned works of public art. Wilmark Studios work has included a stained glass panel for the Shelburne Free Public Library, Temple Emanuel in Woodcliff Lake, N.J., the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., St. Demetrius in Toronto, Holy Spirit Church in Stamford, Conn., and the Jewish Cadet Chapel at West Point Military Academy.

When a stained glass work is for a religious organization, their traditions and spiritual values must be taken into account.

“How do you make a stained glass-window?” Katz asks. “You listen.” You go to committee members, the congregation. You look at the lighting that’s there. As a designer, just entering the space, you can see things. With a job the size of this, there’s a lot of people involved and a lot of feelings,” she said. “That’s part of the deal.”

“That room is already beautiful with nothing in it,” she continued. “Hopefully, what we’re doing will enhance the space and tell a story. Each panel is going to be donated by a different community member.”

“You can talk about how beautiful that space is,” said Katz. “Part of the transformation, the lighting, will enhance the holiness.”

“When we do work for a church or synagogue, we’re very aware that we’re doing something to enhance the prayer of that facility,” said Liebowitz.

“We’re telling the creation story,” Liebowitz mused, “‘Let there be light’ — and we’re messin’ with the light.”

Katz primary does the stained-glass design, while Liebowitz and Punches do the fabrication.

“My first job is to make sure it fits,” says Liebowitz, who draws a diagram of a window space, and its exact dimensions, on paper. “Then Nancy draws what’s inside, to make patterns that we’ll make in lead,” he said.

This project and other stained-glass works can be seen on their website:

www.wilmarkstudios.com

You can reach Diane Broncaccio at: dbroncaccio@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 277

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