Window to the artist’s soul: Gregory Effinger is the man behind Holy Name’s 167 stained glass windows

Frances Hohl/For Steamboat Today

— One hundred years from now, artist Gregory Effinger may be best known for artwork never touched by his pencils or paintbrushes. It’s amazing that while Effinger created the art behind the 167 magnificent stained glass windows adorning Holy Name Catholic Church in Steamboat Springs, he never handled the glass itself.

“They needed someone to do the conceptual art and then hand that off to the stained glass craftsmen,” Effinger explained.

The stained glass windows would become Effinger’s obsession for four years while he researched the theme of each window and the theology behind it.

“It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever been a part of,” Effinger said.

What’s really amazing is how Effinger kept up his dedication to the church project while supporting a family and keeping his marketing business running as the economy came out of a recession.

“He spent hundreds of hours working on the symbolism and meaning behind what he drew and what it meant,” said Georgian Kalow, the stained glass craftswoman who worked closely with Effinger to translate his art into windows.

The First Friday Artwalk’s artist of the month may not have cobbled the stained glass windows together, but the church leaders had faith that Effinger could create the template.

“After he designed the first window, I realized he had the talent to do the whole project,” said Holy Name’s Father Ernest Bayer, who helped Effinger with scriptural interpretation.

From the holy land’s native plants to the pottery used long ago, Effinger studied it all before drawing and coloring it.

The Steamboat native originally attended the University of Northern Colorado to study oil painting, only to have the main professor go on sabbatical. He turned to commercial illustration and graphic design, which would eventually serve him well at Creative Bearings, a marketing firm he started in Steamboat Springs.

His many talents and family history with Holy Name made him the obvious choice for this huge church project. But like college, Effinger once again put his aspirations of fine art painting aside as he took on the stained glass project. He had to resign from the gallery that represented him.

With his wife, Lucy, holding down a job and three adorable kids to support his effort, it didn’t faze him.

“This was a bigger artwork project when you think about it,” Effinger said.

And more importantly, this project was a spiritual calling for almost everyone involved.

“Greg grew up in this church and was baptized in the original church,” said parishioner Diane Franklin, who oversaw Holy Name’s entire renovation project. “It was a wonderful opportunity for him to give back to the community.”

While Effinger’s art stayed true to known pictures of historical figures, his rendition of people and Bible scenes came mostly from his own head … from the last supper to the wedding at Cana, to the set of windows depicting the entire history of the church.

“His art was phenomenal, but I had to tweak it to create the stained glass,” Kalow said.

Effinger, ever humble but thrilled with the finished product, didn’t flinch at having his art renditions tweaked and perfected by Kalow and the dozens of volunteer artists who painstakingly put the windows together.

“It was a huge learning curve, translating the drawings into glass,” said Effinger, who soon learned that adding and subtracting artistic lines would make the difference in how the glass depicted his art.

“He was very open to me re-adapting his drawing so we could actually create his stained glass window,” Kalow said.

“This is a dying art. You have these tiny pieces (of glass) making up his pictures. It’s like taking little pieces and putting it all back together again.”

Diane Franklin said more than 50 volunteers, Catholic and non-Catholic, helped Kalow put the windows together.

“It would have cost us over $3 million to build these windows and would have taken decades to buy them,” Franklin said. In the end, the church spent $300,000 on the windows.

Now that the church’s full renovation is almost complete, Father Ernest is putting Holy Name on the First Friday Artwalk tour — the monthly event in downtown Steamboat Springs where galleries, restaurants and shops host artists and their works.

“We’re thrilled to contribute to the quality of art in our community and promote the interest in art,” said Father Ernest.

“I’m hoping that people that don’t normally feel comfortable coming into a Catholic church know that they can come in and ask questions,” added Effinger. “I think the First Friday Artwalk is going to be the invitation they need and not feel they have to stand on ceremony of any sort.”

Stained glass is only part of what Holy Name has to offer.

“You’re surrounded by art,” Effinger said, pointing out the stone and wood architecture and many sculptures and other works of art.

“If someone buys a painting and puts it in their house and enjoys it, that’s one family,” Effinger said. “Here, hundreds and even thousands will get a chance to see all this work, including my children, my grandchildren. That’s something, huh?”

Effinger will be on hand to answer questions at Holy Name Catholic Church, 524 Oak St., on from 5 to 8 p.m. Jan. 6 at the First Friday Artwalk. Church tour brochures will also be available.

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