Fine art

The world through colored glass

Artesano and innovator Marcus Rael helps illuminate Questa's St. Anthony Church

By Anna Racicot
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 9/27/18

Regardless of the many stained glass windows in the homes of friends, family and clients that Marcus Rael of Questa has completed, his greatest project, fortunately, is available for all to see.Rael, …

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Fine art

The world through colored glass

Artesano and innovator Marcus Rael helps illuminate Questa's St. Anthony Church

Posted

Regardless of the many stained glass windows in the homes of friends, family and clients that Marcus Rael of Questa has completed, his greatest project, fortunately, is available for all to see.

Rael, a deacon, conceived the extraordinary design concept for the windows in St. Anthony's Church in Questa and led the team that cut and ground glass, foiled and soldered the thousands of pieces into the windows adorning the church.

Rael's father and grandfather were woodcarvers, and he also took up the art. He added traditional tinwork and has taught classes in tinwork in Questa. Working in glass came next.

Stained glass began as a family affair, taking a class together in the early 1990s, and Rael found it easy because of working in the family business, Questa Lumber and Hardware, where the ability to cut glass well was a necessary skill.

Entering St. Anthony Church, rebuilt by parishioners after the collapse of a wall, visitors immediately feel the magic of the place, the beauty of the carved spiral posts and the massive vigas, a sense of awe and devotion and the stunning stained glass.

What the average visitor may not appreciate is why the stained glass figures seem so compelling and so very New Mexican. It was while on a pilgrimage in Cordova, Rael relates, that the answer to the question of what they should do with the windows, since the church was being rebuilt, came to him. They would, he thought, make the stained glass windows in the style of traditional retablos, honoring the retablistos.

The small, stylized paintings of saints on wooden boards would be the inspiration for these large, brightly colored windows, a unique blend of tradition and innovation. The style of the wooden altar screen in Talpa by Molleno, the retablos of Jose Rafael Aragón's Santo Niño de Atocha and Jose Fresquez' San Ysidro became the inspiration for the designs of the windows at St. Anthony's.

While Ricardo Leon and Rael designed most of the windows, a group of dedicated volunteers met two nights a week for three years to bring them to their finished state. They began each worknight with a prayer and a goal of what they wanted to accomplish that session.

Most stained glass in churches is leaded, painted, in a style dating back to the Middle Ages and is very expensive. The style at St. Anthony's, though, is unprecedented, enlivening and honoring a traditional art form with the use of a new medium and one that could be created by a volunteer team.

The window depicting Our Lady of Guadalupe was Rael's favorite to work on. The pieces for each rose were cut from a single piece of glass so that the pattern in the glass itself could be matched. "She doesn't let you work on her unless you're in the right spirit," he said.

He learned patience working on those windows for the church. "It had to be perfect because it's for the Lord," he relates.

Rael explains that he is in the tradition of artesanos, the Northern New Mexican artists, such as his dad and brothers, who built furniture because it was needed. They fashioned utilitarian pieces, but they decorated them beautifully with traditional designs. His uncle's woodcarving can be seen outside one of the Santa Fe museums. Rael incorporated traditional floral and lion designs into windows at St. Anthony's.

An artesano, Rael said, "does it from the love of doing the art." Most of his windows have been gifts, many to his godchildren and grandchildren and mark special occasions, such as baptism or confirmation.

When he retires, Rael said he hopes to set aside a day for teaching others. This October he is planning to teach a class locally. Next, he said, will be to try his hand making mosaics in glass.

All of Rael's commissions have been the result of word of mouth. He does not have a website nor has he had an interest in keeping photographs of his work. Even the stained glass window of a carousel installed in his daughter's house that he sees frequently, he relates, has not been photographed.

Rael can be contacted for commissions or for repair of old windows at Questa Lumber and Hardware, corner of State Roads 38 and 522. Call (575) 586-0414 or visit questalumber.com.

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