Shared from the 2/1/2020 Albany Times Union eEdition


Windows have a quirky grace at St. Michael’s

In 1985 artist designed deeply personal works for Colonie church


Panels from the main stained glass window at St Michael’s Episcopal Church were designed by artist Thomasa Nielsen and worked on by congregants.

Photos by Will Waldron / Times Union One sanctuary wall is covered with stained glass windows at St Michael’s Episcopal Church, showcasing quite the range of symbolism and topics.


St Michael’s stained glass windows that are charming and quirky — unlike anything in the Capital Region.


Aslan stars in side panels featuring scenes from “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”


Left, a whale, dinosaurs and dolphins play in panes depicting Creation.

Will Waldron / Times Union

Sue Sulzman, left, with the Rev. Dan Jones, right, recalls the history of the stained glass windows where St Michael’s congregation members cut and soldered each piece of glass for more than 50 windows.


The tan feet of Jesus are poised above a shimmering blue sea as he prepares to walk on water toward his disciples who are in a distant boat. Right below that New Testament miracle rendered in stained glass is a window depicting two tiny astronauts spacewalking in the vast, inky cosmos. A menacing orange sun blazes below them.

Back in 1985, St. Michael’s Episcopal Church’s congregation asked artist Thomasa Nielsen to design more than 50 stained glass windows and the worshippers cut every piece for every window from huge colored glass sheets. They soldered and assembled every window by hand.

They wanted the project to be deeply personal and a reflection of their values. So, they asked Nielsen to design windows that showcased a Biblical miracle bestowed by God (water walking) juxtaposed with the modern day equivalent delivered by science and technology (spacewalking). Nielsen’s father was the church’s beloved priest, Father Charles Dwyer. But even she wondered if she was pushing the envelope too far with the stained glass image of a test tube baby. It was next to the window showcasing a father, mother and child at the wedding where Jesus turned water into wine.

“My aim was to show a wedding as the first step toward becoming parents and the miracle of childbirth,” she explained. “In vitro fertilization as a scientific miracle. There’s a test tube right next to the baby in the stained glass window.”

In vitro fertilization stirred religious controversy in the 1980s when some denominations objected that the technology let the infertile play God. Nielsen was just 25 when she designed the windows and wasn’t sure what to expect.

“But there was no blowback at all,” she said. “The congregation was supportive and excited about making the windows and there were more than 50 of them. My father had a gift for coming up with projects that formed a bond between people.”

One of those 1980s projects was a miniature recreation of a basement Narnia for the congregation’s kids, remembers Sue Sulzman, who’s been a congregation member since 1959. She recalls an enormous wooden wardrobe created by woodworkers in the congregation. Children crept in its doors and exited out the back into a room decorated with white cotton puffs, fake spray-on snow and glittering snowflake ornaments. It inspired Nielsen to design a row of sanctuary windows showing scenes from “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

She’s served St. Michael’s as everything from volunteer church janitor to ad hoc historian. When each window was installed, church members could read about its meaning in the church bulletin that Sunday. Sulzman saved every bulletin in a binder. In the sanctuary, one wall is covered with windows laid out in an arched grid. On a recent cold but sunny day, visitors pointed to different windows and asked about their symbolism and topics. Sulzman consulted her book for the answers.

“You could play stained glass Jeopardy on this wall,” the male visitor quipped.

Handmade by congregation members, the windows were a loving labor that took five years. Sulzman says the designs had to be tweaked when volunteers discovered how difficult it was to cut colored glass into a curved shape. Two basement workrooms were left open 24/7 so anyone could cut the colored glass or solder it when they had some free time.

The result is charming and quirky, unlike anything anywhere else in the Capital Region. Nielsen teaches high school art and it’s clear many of the windows were designed with entertaining children in mind. The story of Creation has blue rivers and big bays where dolphins and dinosaurs frolic. Moses holds the 10 Commandments while a mountain erupts in volcanic fire behind him. The fire could symbolize God’s anger. But the overall impact of the windows is so bright and exuberant, it’s easier to focus on the comforting rainbow arcing out of the mountainside.

Continuing series

This article is part of a series showcasing the most beautiful or significant stained glass windows in Capital Region houses of worship. To see more, go to https://

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