Felician sister expresses faith through stained glass art

by KIMBERLEE SABSHIN
Fri, Sep 19th 2014 04:00 pm

For one Felician sister, art is a way of expressing feelings, emotions and faith. Sister M. Ann Therese Kelly, CSSF, operates and sells stained glass artwork at her own studio, Illumination Stained Glass Studio, at Villa Maria Convent in Buffalo. Sister Ann Therese, also an art instructor, created stained glass windows found in six local buildings and schools, including Niagara University.

Sister Ann Therese, who currently lives in Buffalo and teaches online classes for Felician College in Lodi, N.J. as an adjunct professor, recently spoke about her earliest experiences, why she began painting stained glass windows and how she ties her craft in with her faith. Although Sister Ann Therese has been an artist since first beginning art classes in high school in 1970, she found her niche later.

"I went on, as an art major after high school, to Niagara County Community College. I went there for a full year and then I entered the convent, so I finished my associate's at Villa Maria College. After I trained as a sister, I went on to Buffalo State as an art major and finished a bachelor's degree in art," Sister Ann Therese said. After receiving a master's degree in fine arts and printmaking from the Rochester Institute of Technology, the beauty of stained glass in the convent inspired her upon returning to Buffalo.

"Through time, I learned to admire it, and I took a little stained glass class in downtown Buffalo," Sister Ann Therese said. "I kept playing and working with it. With a degree in art, the most important thing about stained glass, for me, is that I started to design my own windows. I'm also a designer of stained glass, which is the rarer thing. I learned, from the bottom up, how to produce a stained glass window, every aspect of it, so that when I'm designing for stained glass, I know what I'm designing for."

Sister Ann Therese was also an adjunct professor of visual and art history at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, and was a full-time professor at Felician College for 10 years, and chair of the college's department of art and music for five years, before moving back to Western New York.

"It was thrilling, because I always wanted to teach there for a long time," she commented of her time as a professor at St. Bonaventure University. "When I finally got a chance, it was thrilling to be on campus, to be surrounding by the caliber of people that are there: my colleagues, the students. It was just wonderful, and it's always a challenge to grow further in different venues of academics."

At the end of August, Sister Ann Therese debuted a new offering of online art courses for three colleges and five high schools across the country. Future online courses will be open to people in other countries that speak English. As a Felician College professor, she taught American students abroad in Europe, including Italy, Ireland, Spain, France and Sicily, which she said was a positive experience.

"It was amazing to teach on-site at different places, the hands-on experience of being right there with the original artwork," Sister Ann Therese said. "To see artwork in a book just doesn't compare with seeing work up close and personal. It was the most amazing thing, and the connection with the culture."

Her most recent project at Niagara University is a 35-foot window, consisting of 12 panels, in Dunleavy Hall next to the Castellani Art Museum. Sister Ann Therese created this particular piece to commemorate the achievements of the school's nursing alumni. Her up-and-coming projects include two windows, about 5.5 feet tall, for the sanctuary of St. Martha Church in Depew, a window for Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart in Amherst and a residential piece she is designing for a homeowner.

Another of Sister Ann Therese's recently completed pieces is "Song of Creation" in the Villa Maria College library, a 16-inch tall by 4.5 foot-wide window installed in August 2013. The piece includes 12 separate panels. According to the artist, it depicts the "sun, moon, wind, water, and the earth itself teeming with birds and fish, water, fire, Mother Earth, continents, indigenous trees and leaves" and symbolizes the mission of Villa Maria College and the community of Felician Sisters.

"It embodies diversity, unity, hope, sustainability," she said. "But I've done a lot of other architectural works around Buffalo, and outside of Buffalo, before that."

Sister Ann Therese said each of the stained class windows she has created represents its own unique set of challenges. "I always go a step further on each process. I learn new techniques and new ways of doing things, so it's really hard to say (which is the most challenging). One of them would probably be a skylight I did for a 19th-century castle in Rutherford, N.J. It was very challenging," she said.

In deciding a name for her art studio, through which she still sells many pieces, Sister Ann Therese said she was looking for a title that would connect with both glass and light, and she also has an affinity for St. Hildegard of Bingen, who often said, "I am illuminated." As an artist and woman religious, she said she chose this profession to find a medium to speak to people of faith. She was inspired by St. Francis of Assisi's poem and song, "Canticle of the Sun," which she said speaks to all religions.

"I find doing this medium, which is one reason I chose it as my profession, is my search, as a religious person, to find an art that would speak to the people of faith," she commented. "I can embellish churches, retreat houses and other academic spaces to inspire people, to be able to give a message, visually, to people, which sometimes is more powerful than words and can be interpreted in so many different ways by different people. I try not to just speak to Catholics and Christians."

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