Sunday, November 4, 2012

Our Mothers Who Lead the Way: A Window of Tribute

copyright 2012 Becky Nielsen
A few years ago we decided to start replacing the windows in our house.  They were the originals from about 1923 when  our house was built, and we loved them.  But when the weather turned cold, we could feel the air pouring through the edges, wasting our heat.  We decided we had to get more efficient ones.

Not wanting to just have them go off to the dump, I decided I'd paint on them.  They made such great "frames" for certain kinds of paintings.  I've completed six so far.  I thought I'd share the process for the most recent one.

Some of the windows have four long vertical panels that make them ideal for series work - the
Apostles,  Muses, Seasons,  directions, any thing that could be grouped in fours.
I'd been thinking of combining several  African American women whose lives were inspirational for their courage and leadership.  And in this instance, I specifically chose  them because of their relationship to God.  They each felt that they had a calling.

Sojourner Truth (1797 to 1883) was the first one I thought of because of her history here in the Hudson Valley.   Next, I chose Harriet Tubman (1820 to 1913).  She also has connections to this area, through the Underground Railroad, and eventually settled in Auburn, NY.  The third woman I chose was Fannie Lou Hamer (1917 to 1977).  Born in rural Mississippi,  she is less well known by many of us, but worked tirelessly, exposing herself to great danger, for civil rights, especially the right to vote.  And the fourth woman I chose for this window was Thea Bowman (1937 to 1990).  Although she started life in a Protestant family in Mississippi, she gravitated toward the Catholic Church, becoming a Franciscan Sister in an all white community.  She described herself as a bridge over troubled waters, working to unite people of various backgrounds, encouraging women to preach even though the church didn't allow women to preach there.  Google each one of these for more of their inspirational stories.  And you can find youtube videos of Thea Bowman singing and speaking with such great spirit!

To complete these paintings, I first drew  "cartoons" of each woman on paper that I could tape to the back of the window.  Then I painted in the outlines, using acrylic paint.  I find that painting on glass, I have to use many layers to get the paint to stick solidly.  Even at that, if the windows are held up against the light, you can see where the layers are thinner.  Finally, I add the details.

The windows are then wired for hanging.  They are not meant to be hung against another window; the continued strong light might make the paint fade.  And they actually look great against a solid wall, with shadows occurring behind them when the light comes from different directions.


  1. Lovely, Becky. I have a stack of windows that I picked up by the side of the road. I have done a few pieces with them. They are a bit mysterious, don't you think. They are like the eyes of a place and the people who looked thru them. Gives the work another dimension in so many ways.

  2. Thanks, Neely. What did you do with yours? I do like the effect, with the windows, that you could be looking out your window and seeing something happening.

  3. Beautiful. I love seeing your work. :)

  4. Just amazing! The idea of using the windows to paint on, the subject matter, the women you chose and the final product. I am jsut thrilled with them!