A lifelong passion has turned into a creative way for Jerry Schmittler to donate his talents to his church and to the Lord.
Schmittler, 77, who lives between St. Clair and Union on Highway 47, has donated 14 personally crafted stained-glass windows to St. Clair Southern Baptist Church.
“You could kind of say I consider this a hobby,” Schmittler said while seated at his kitchen table. “I’ve always been interested in stained glass, but I never had the time to do it until I retired.”
Several homemade stained-glass items decorate Schmittler’s home, including a beautiful lamp made out of hundreds of separately cut pieces that helps light his living room. He started his craft small by making suncatchers and other things and worked his way up to the windows that are displayed in his church.
“I don’t make things for sale, really,” he said. “I’ve made some things for family and friends and the windows for the church. It takes a long time to make things, and I do it because I really enjoy it. It’s just fun.”
The 14 windows at St. Clair Southern have taken him more than three years to make. Schmittler said he worked on them when his schedule allowed and tried to block out six to eight hours at a time to do the work.
He estimated that there are at least 300 individually cut pieces that make up each window in his church. A couple of them probably have a lot more pieces than that, he said.
“And it took me at least 90 hours to make each window,” he said. “And that does not include making the drawing. That’s just the actual glasswork on each window.”
Before he designed and created the stained-glass windows in the church’s auditorium, he made one that sits above the church’s front door. That one was dedicated to his wife, Carolyn, who died in 2007.
His windows also appear above the altar in front of the church and along the back wall of the lobby behind the auditorium. The altar window features Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. One of the lobby windows is Christ at the Last Supper.
There also is a diamond-shaped window that faces the front parking lot.
Schmittler is a charter member of St. Clair Southern Baptist and has been a deacon there since 1978. He said when the church decided several years ago that it needed new windows, he volunteered to create them.
“Mostly, the windows in the auditorium I designed myself,” he said. “I followed a basic pattern and kind of added to it on my own.”
The other windows, such as the ones above the doorway and altar and the one in the back lobby, were fashioned from drawings Schmittler found.
But, each piece of individual glass, big or small, was hand cut and prepared. He used a glass cutter to get each piece’s basic shape and then used a diamond grinder to make it an exact fit.
“Then, it’s like putting a jigsaw puzzle together,” he said.
Schmittler said he basically uses copper foil to piece the window together. Each piece then must be soldered to the previous piece.
Before that takes place, he starts with a sketch. When it’s tailored to his liking, he makes two drawings. One he keeps intact while the other gets cut into however many pieces the window will include. Each piece is cut to size according to the drawing.
He numbers each piece, usually by color.
“It takes quite a while,” he said. “It takes some doing.”
Schmittler has one window left to do at St. Clair Southern. Currently, he is working on the sketch. It features Jesus with some children.
“I hope I can get it done,” he said, adding that the arthritis in his hip is getting worse and prevents him from doing some things he wants to get done.
“If I can’t do it, I’ll get some help. Either way, this probably will be the last one I do.”
Schmittler was born and raised in Illinois but moved to the area from Mount Carmel in 1960. A job as a typesetter for the now defunct Franklin County Tribune lured him to the Show Me State.
Specialty coursework at the University of Missouri in Columbia led him to his interest in the newspaper business.
“This was way before the invention of the offset press,” he said.
After about three years, he landed a job with Southwestern Bell as an installer and serviceman.
He retired 34 years later in 1998.
“I’ve liked this area since I came here,” he said, adding that he has lived in the same house on Highway 47 for about 40 years.
He also is interested in photography and has taken wedding pictures for family members and close friends. In addition, he said he has done carpentry and woodworking work.
He also volunteers his time to work at the Agape thrift store in St. Clair. Proceeds from the store go to the Agape House, which shelters those in need of food and clothing while also trying to find residents employment.
Although always interested in stained-glass work, it wasn’t until he and his wife went to Mission, Texas, one winter that he actually started working in the craft. There, he said the area where they vacationed offered “all kinds of activities.”
“I took a class in stained glass,” he said. “After we came back home, I started working in it. I started small but expanded to larger projects like the windows.
“I wouldn’t call myself a real artist, but it’s something I can do.”
Schmittler also said he read many books about the craft, visited with others who do it, took a couple of classes and invested in a how-to video series.
“I learned by researching,” he said. “I’ve taken a lot of time to learn how to do it.”
He gave special thanks to Linda Sutterer of Glass Compositions in Marthasville “for technical support over the years.”
He also thanked fellow members of St. Clair Southern.
“I’m very thankful for the help of several from my church who have assisted with the cutting and grinding of the glass and for transporting the windows and helping place them in the frames,” he said. “I also am thankful for all the encouragement from my church family over the years.
“I hope they enjoy the windows for many, many years.”
Schmittler also said he is happy that the majority of the big projects have been for his church and the Lord.
“It’s been a real blessing to me to be able to do this,” he said. “It’s given me something to do in my retirement and allowed me to do something for my church.
“I thank God for helping me make this contribution to my church.”