A glass act

By CHARLES PEARL State Journal Staff Writer Published:

Gentle classical music greets mid-morning visitors in her small art studio behind her small house in urban Louisville.

Her brilliantly colored stained-glass paintings of birds and wildflowers and native tree leaves brighten the room, even on gray days in late March.

A native of suburban Washington, D.C., Laura Mentor grew up going to the National Gallery of Art and Smithsonian museums. But there is nothing stuffy about the woman commissioned to create three large stained glass windows for the new Paul Sawyier Public Library.

She loves small towns and the public art project she has been working on for almost a year. And she loves nature. When I am out in nature, she says, I feel like a whole human being. I feel connected to the natural world, to people, and to myself.

She feels a connection to the late Frankfort artist Paul Sawyier, who painted from nature his whole life, Mentor says. I didnt want to imitate anything he had done. But I wanted to draw out some of these exquisite, intimate little elements of what is actually surrounding us if we stop and look in the four seasons.

To me, they are beautiful, all these shapes of leaves and flowers and birds. My hope is the windows will generate curiosity and appreciation.

While living on a farm for 25 years in little Fairfield, Iowa, Mentor met artist Lynn Durham, who now works in a studio in Vero Beach, Fla., and creates stained-glass windows for churches all over the country.

She does exquisite work, and I was very fortunate to be taught by a master in this traditional technique, Mentor says. Not many people are using these painting techniques, which go back to the time of cathedral building in the 12th and 13th century in Europe.

Its very time-consuming. Some of these birds, for instance, go through half a dozen firings. I paint a layer and fire it, and paint another layer and fire it.

Mentor cuts out a glass jigsaw puzzle of her own original designs. Then to give the birds, wildflowers and leaves their definition, shadows and highlights, she does the layers of painting.

The paint has ground glass as well as pigment in it, she says. When its fired in the kiln, it fuses with the surface of the body of each piece of glass, so it never fades if its done properly. The glass itself is so attractive, so seductive and beautiful, it draws you in. Its such a powerful medium like a transcendental experience for me.

The stained-glass windows will be on the east side of the new library facing the current library. The bottom two vertical windows are 6 by 12 feet, and the top arched window is 15 feet wide at the base.

On a frigid day in mid-February, Mentor drove from her home on Muhammad Ali Boulevard to Wapping Street in her station wagon, carrying one of the finished stained glass panels.

I was getting very nervous, wondering about what the quality of light would be like with a wall (of the old library) 30 feet away, she recalls. I needed to see for myself.

She was also nervous carrying a large glass panel up an icy stairway. Moving slowly, Mentor and the stained glass ascended and descended safely. She was pleased with what she saw in the mid-morning natural light. She can sleep better at night now.

I did this very, very thin layer of white on the back of all the painted pieces, she says. The white looks like the softest, little satiny sandblast. It just diffuses the light and spreads in out.

Mentor is almost finished with the ornamental windows. They will probably be installed in August, with her closely observing.

The library board and Friends of the Paul Sawyier Public Librarys commitment to a public art project like this is fantastic, she says. Its kind of a rare thing these days, especially in a place the size of Frankfort.

Mentor will receive $34,000 for her artwork, and Friends of the Library is contributing $25,000 toward the project $12,500 for the arched window and another $12,500 for the windows installation.

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