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Between the worn covers of Caroline K. Jensen’s journal lies nearly four decades of her fascination with symbolism and light. From the initial concept to photographs of the final result, the …
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Between the worn covers of Caroline K. Jensen’s journal lies nearly four decades of her fascination with symbolism and light.
From the initial concept to photographs of the final result, the book is a tribute to the craftsmanship behind her stained-glass windows. Her work can be found across the United States — and in Idaho Springs’ own St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church and Zion Lutheran Church.
Jensen’s stained-glass windows will likely last many hundreds of years — not a surprising length of time considering she’s following in the footsteps of artisans whose work has lasted since the late Middle Ages.
The Idaho Springs resident said the joy of discovery is what draws her to creating stained glass, but she also admits that, like all artists, Jensen hopes her works will outlive her.
“Short of tearing down churches or super-disasters coming through town, they will outlive me … Generally speaking, they can last forever — in human terms,” Jensen said. “(Knowing that) makes you work a little bit harder to make sure they’re not only going to talk to this generation but anybody else.”
From where and how certain colors are used to the type of glass soldered into an image, all of the components are carefully planned. And the windows’ messages can be full of religious, regional and historical meaning.
Jensen said most people come into one of the local churches displaying her stained glass and say it “looks nice” without examining the stories told in the glass — which is fine by her. But she strongly believes the windows, as they did in medieval cathedrals, must tell a story.
“Whether or not the current people can read it is somewhat optional,” Jensen joked. “It’s like reading Latin — it’s good to know that somebody can, but not everybody has to.”
She said that, as an academic, she enjoys doing the research and watching the project evolve from a rough concept into the final piece. And she revels in the accidental discoveries that come along the way.
“They speak to me as I work with them, saying, ‘Oh, you can’t quite do that,’ or, ‘Isn’t this a better idea: You put the other lump of glass down and it looks better?’
“That comes with art.”
Jensen blames her high school French teacher for getting her interested in the art of stained-glass windows.
“You can’t take French without looking at cathedrals; you can’t look at cathedrals without looking at the glass,” Jensen said. “I’ve been an artist all my life; my mother said I started out with a crayon.”
Jensen currently runs the Majestic Art Gallery in Idaho Springs. She received her formal education in the arts from the University of Northern Colorado, earning a master’s degree in the 1960s. She later completed additional studies at the University of Oslo in Norway and the Pratt Institute in New York.
A high school art teacher, Jensen and her husband moved to Idaho Springs in 1974 so they could raise their family between Denver, where her parents lived, and the Henderson Mine, where her husband worked at the time as an engineer.
“I would have loved to have gone (initially) to art school or become a geologist, but at that time, ladies did not become geologists, and (my mother) was really afraid I’d run off to Greenwich Village and become a hippie — so I became a teacher,” Jensen said. “I taught senior high art for a long time, and then back East I married a Brooklyn-ite, and then we came here partly to be near my mountains — I’m stuck on these guys.”
While she was waiting for a local teaching position to open, she started to work as an independent artist and has been one ever since.
Jensen said that when she became a member of Zion Lutheran Church, it was a good excuse to design the church’s stained glass. The original windows were dull, solid colors, which was not unusual for a poor immigrant community.
“I spent my Sundays looking at the terribleness of those (original) windows than paying attention to what I was supposed to be paying attention to,” Jensen said.
She said the church gladly agreed to the idea of her creating the new windows, which she volunteered her time to do.
“They pretty much gave me carte blanche — they said, ‘Yeah, we like the idea. Go ahead and go for it.’”
From initial idea to final construction, Jensen said the windows at Zion Lutheran take about a year each to finish, and she still has a few yet to go. But the time it takes to complete the projects doesn’t bother her.
“When somebody looks at my windows and has that same ‘Oh, wow,’ that’s the gratification that makes it all worthwhile,” she said.
Her intricate designs and neat handwriting only fill half of the stained-glass journal she’s kept over the years. Her latest project hasn’t even yet made it into the journal.
“It’s up here,” she said, pointing to her head.
Contact Ian Neligh at courant
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