In this month of February, Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity highlight a gallery of Conrad Pickel’s stained glass images of Saint Bernadette and Our Lady of Lourdes from Holy Family Parish, Our Lady of Lourdes site, Marinette, WI. Who better than Conrad’s own son, Paul, to comment on these timeless windows of faith? You’ll want to read every word of Paul Pickel.
Comments from Paul Pickel
Envy is one of the seven deadly sins but I can’s help it, envy is what I have when I see the outstanding selection of colored mouth blown stained glass that was used in creating the windows for Holy Family (Our Lady of Lourdes site) in Marinette, WI. Many of the rich textured glass pieces and the rich shaded colors of the windows are no longer produced and their secret formulas most likely known only to the master glass blowers of England, Germany and France in the 40’s and 50’s and will never again be reproduced. Certainly remarkably beautiful colors are produced today although limited to a very few glass factories but the beautiful unique streakies of England and certain beautiful shaded rubies and certain shades of the soft deep spiritual cobait blues of France and Germany are no longer available. Many of these lost colors were used in making these windows. They are remarkably beautiful and yes, that’s why I’m envious.
The stained glass windows for Our Lady of Lourdes were designed by Conrad Pickel, the founder in 1946 of the studio bearing his name. Conrad Pickel studied under the outstanding designers and glass painters at Mayer Studios, in his native Munich, Germany, before immigrating to the U.S. Once here he again worked throughout the country for some of the finest studios of the time including Judson in Los Angeles, Conrad Schmitt in Milwaukee and the very famous and highly regarded Connick Studios of Boston. Connick was a master at including beautiful cobait blues and the rubies produced from actual gold. During these learning experiences Conrad Pickel studied color from these masters and he assembled his own unique palette of colors that is today as recognizable in his windows as his unique style of figure work.
Conrad Pickel’s style most evident in the Our Lady of Lourdes windows is totally unique. His line work is deceptively simple with only the basic lines combining to create faces full of emotion. Lines for the hair, for example, may be limited to three or four lines with the areas of black creating the form. Lips may be two or three simple lines. The noses are sharp and again created with simple line work. Hands and fingers on adult figures were long, simply drawn and most graceful. Garments utilized beautiful streakies (glass blown with a combination of colors) and they too were simple in line work but each line was very important to the overall design. Halftones (shading applied which is about halfway between solid black and no paint at all) were applied to the glass and the lines and shapes were cut sharply giving the windows a certain crispness and freshness. The children in windows created by Pickel again with very limited line work all expressed each emotion he was trying to convey whether it be joy, surprise or love.
Stained glass without light would of course be nothing. Conrad Pickel became his own master in using light and a master of controlling light to strengthen his designs. He was never afraid to use black and preached this lesson to me constantly. There is always a halation of certain colors as light passes through stained glass. Painted line work and lead lines become smaller with the halation of light. He brings out the richness of color and was aware of how light affected his line work and facial details realizing his line work would become smaller as the light passed through the glass. He selected glass that has beautiful shading and he sought out glass that was not perfect. He wanted glass that showed its handmade characteristics. He wanted glass that had natural lines and bubbles all to alter and enhance the rays of light as they passed through the glass.
Wherever I go to see my father’s work, the color of glass that is the key to his design, is his selection of a beautiful cobalt blue. It has a bit of gray in it, a bit of purple but it is mainly soft, peaceful and yes, spiritual. Many times it is referred to as the Pickel Blue. People generally love stained glass as the morning light pours through the colored glass but also one of the most spiritual times to appreciate a Pickel Window with its special Pickel Blues is to be by oneself, in a darkening church, as the sun is receding. As light enters through, the striking blues and darkening rich colors, that special experience of stained glass cannot help but move one’s soul.
The designs by Conrad Pickel for the stained glass windows of Our Lady of Lourdes are timeless and should undoubtedly be appreciated by many generations to come. This is the true genius and beauty of his work.