Stained Glass by Jay Grooters

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Article about Jay Grooters and his Liturgical Stained Glass
published in the Longmont Times-Call on November 12, 2006


Mountain Grace
By Valerie Pehrson
The Estes Park Trail-Gazette
Stained Glass artist Jay Grooters has completed his most challenging work to date, and reflects on creating a legacy.
Jay Grooters has been doing stained glass pieces for over 30 years. The mostly self-taught artist recently completed his largest work to date: A window depicting the Virgin Mary in front of a meadow and Longs Peak.
Over 1,100 separate pieces of hand-cut glass, countless hours at work and a lot of planning went into the stained glass window depicting the Virgin Mary at the Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church.
Jay Grooters is more than a little happy about how the finished product has turned out. While Grooters has been creating stained glass pieces for 30 years or so, this was a foray into the unknown for him.
"The most difficult part of the piece was her face," said Grooters. "If you look at her face, there are two pieces there. Her mouth is cut out with no break lines coming out of the sides. I ground that out. Years ago we couldn't do that, but there are new tools now. Her forehead and her nose is one piece and the lower half of her face is one other piece. Trying to get that without breaking it was hard. I wanted to have as few lines in her face as possible. I didn't know if I could pull it off, but it worked."
Grooters chalked up early childhood experiences to his affection for Ecclasiastical stained glass. He is the son of a Methodist minister, and remembers being moved not only by the work in the church of his childhood, but a special window in the family home that captivated him.
"I remember there was a simple beveled window in our house in Longmont that would catch the sun. The light would refract and you'd catch these colors. It fascinated me as a kid and then as I got older and got married and we moved to Salt lake City, I always wanted a stained glass lamp, but couldn't afford one, so I took a class to learn how to do it. The guy who taught the class really wasn't very good, but I learned where to find supplies and I found a really good book on it. So I basically learned from a book and trial and error. I discovered I had a knack for it. I've always liked jigsaw puzzles and that's basically what this is .. a glass jigsaw puzzle."
Grooters was approached last summer by Father Gregory of the church and Rose Mary Gergen of Burlington, Colo., to begin work on the window. "She wanted this particular representation of Mary and Father Gregory and I met several times to see how we wanted things to turn out. We wanted some flowers and meadows and mountains, of course. We went through about 5 different designs before we got to exactly what we wanted. I have a program that is for designing stained glass windows on the computer. Frankly, I don't know how I would do this the old way, making a design and transferring it down on the pattern. It took 52 sheets of paper when I printed out the full size design. It gives me a way to show people approximately how it is going to look. The colors aren't exactly true colors, because you won't be able to tell that until you get the glass in there, but it's an approximation. We started talking about the window maybe in July," he said. "But my wife Fran and I run the Alpine Trail Ridge Inn, so summers aren't really free for me to be devoting that kind of time to anything."
So Grooters had his winter project all lined up for himself, and although he didn't log his exact hours to keep track of how long the project took him, being absorbed in the work made the time pass quickly.
"I'd go down to work on it in my studio at about seven at night and then before I knew it, it would be two in the morning," he said. "Sometimes I'd work on it all day, but usually evening was when I did most of the work." Grooters designed the window to be easy to move. Despite its size, it only took around a half an hour to install.
"The reason I did it in that many panels was to keep them down to a size that was easy to handle, and so that it could be taken out should they expand the church some years down the road," he said. "It was interesting because I had this all put together in my garage and had planned on taking everything out and bringing the frame in and installing the frame, and then getting some scaffolding and intalling it. But it wasn't very heavy, and I could move it around fairly easily. So I went upstairs and got the bathroom scales and brought it down to my studio and it weighed 130 pounds. The scary part was packing it well enough to put it in my trailer and get it down a bumpy dirt road and getting it here without breaking it," he laughed. "It came out fine. We just lifted it up into place. In half an hour it went from a big plain window to the installed window.
So far the response to his creation has been nothing but positive, and Grooters is humbled at the feedback he's received directly and indirectly.
"There was a meeting happening here at the church and there were a group of people in the office meeting room," he explained. "They came out about a half hour after we had installed the window and without exception, they put their hand over their heart and said "Oh, my." We haven't had any negative comments or anything like that. We have more windows lined up for the church, too, but for the moment the windows are on hold until they know what they're going to do with the building. Father's idea is that the whole inside of the church should have some kind of aspect of Mary's life represented in the windows. Father Gregory has a very good sense of design. He's very artistic in his own way. I didn't know some of the protocol about what colors the Catholic Church uses, and he kept me in line with that. He's also a very good marketer - he's got the fellow that has the Chocolate Drop who donates these chocolate bars. Father had him put the picture of Mary on the chocolate bars, and people will buy up all the Mary bars and leave the other ones."
Grooters has printed up some 8.5"x11" and 13"x19" prints of the window and donated them to the church to sell to use for their building fund.
"I'm not a parishioner, but my wife is," said Grooters. "I'm not a member of the church, but I'm active in helping out here. I'm just trying to return some of the value that they've given me."
Grooters was a member of the National Speakers Association and the Colorado Speakers Association for 9 years, and it is a time in his life that he recalled with a mixture of fondness and frustration in his voice.
"I learned a lot and heard some tremendous speakers," he explained. "I was at a point in my life where I really needed that positive input. It was life changing for me. But at one point I finally realized that I didn't really have a message. If I didn't feel like I had a message, I felt like I really shouldn't go around speaking. Well, ironically, now I realise that I do have a message and it's that 'I speak with my hands and not with my voice.' Instead of affecting people with my speeches and presentations, I'm leaving something that will affect people for years long after I'm gone. This window speaks for me. Hundreds of people see it every week, thousands every year. There are some people who say 'that's really nice,' and then other people who say that it touches them to their core. It has made a change in their life. To me that's what it's all about. It's doing something that will positively affect people and help them through whatever they're going through or help them through a transition in their lives. It's a fun medium. I enjoy working in it and I like it because I have results. It's not like writing. I can see something tangible and it is as though I'm leaving a legacy.
Grooters is no stranger to the keyboard and the perils of writer's block. Some years ago, he wrote a book of Story/Poems titled, "Looking in My Mirror Backwards, Reflections at Mid-Life," where he candidly and frankly speaks of some of the joys and tribulations that his life has dealt him, and the thoughts and feelings that arose in him while he reflected on where he wanted the rest of his life to head.
Jay Grooters' stained glass window of the Virgin Mary contains over 1,100 separate pieces of hand-cut glass. The Virgin's rosary is made of glass beads that he attached to the window.
"I have some books that we put into the motel rooms as room copies, and it's interesting to see the comments that we get from that sometimes. Most people don't say much, but once in a while someone will come in and say that it really touched them. It's a little scary putting that book out there, because it does expose myself emotionally. But you have to do that kind of thing in order to be able to reach out and touch people. I hope that people feel that way after spending time looking at this stained glass. I'm looking foward to whatever happens. I'd like to keep going on the project because I'm 61 right now, and hopefuly I've got another 15 years or so in me and that I'll be able to keep working on this project until I can't anymore."
Grooters did the majority of the stained glass windows in the Allenspark Church, and some restoration work in a Methodist church in Longmont. It seems he's cut out for church glass, but he does other pieces as well.
"I also do smaller pieces, things that you can hang in your window. Since I take inspiration from the area, I've done stained glass of wildlife, flowers, mountains ... that kind of thing. In the past, most of my work has been for individuals, but I really hope to keep challenging myself to do larger and larger pieces. I'm so pleased with how this one turned out, it really has been extraordinary, and I really like the idea of how many people's lives it will be a part of in the years to come."
Grooters' book and stained glass can be viewed at his website: www.urbanrancher.com.

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