Stained glass: medieval 'cartoons' can spur special projects for kids

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

We went to see some cartoons the other day that were showing in full color. They weren't Disney, but the stories were great, the characters were deep and wonderful, and the lighting was fantastic.

a "cartoon" in the medieval sense is the design used for stained glass windows, "comic books" for illiterate congregations in cathedrals throughout the Europe of that day. The people of Washington, D.C., have been building a Gothic acthedral since 1907, filling it with finally hundreds of these "comics."

At the Washington Cathedral, there is a window depicting industrial and social reformers like Nehemiah (by Napoleon A. Setti); another showing architects like Solomon (by Albert Birkle); and another depictBirkle); and another depicting educators from Plato and St. Paul to Horace Mann (by Wilbur H. Burnham). There are windows of healing, humanitarianism, and freedom, and a space window showing the first moon landing with a piece of the rock pinioned in the middle (by Rodney Winfield).

Recommended: Christmas cookies for everyone on your list

There are even religious windows, ranging from one that shows Jesus as a child playing ball to Rowan LeCompte's magnificent West Rose Window, an ababstract design showing a gathering of light and energy illustrating the account in Genesis of God's creation of the universe.

The children and I wandered away from the cathedral's tour to get an up-close look at one of the smaller pieces: the Maryland Window, a word picture describing the establishment of the Church of England on Maryland's shores.

The medium of stained glass is light, which the artist handles by mounting one to four thicknesses of glass in lead or copper foil. The weight of a large window is also supported by horizontal lead bars; these are worked into the design.

The children mentally fingered the Maryland's glass pieces, seeing the different depths of glass used and the illusion of three dimensions that that difference makes.

Next, we went to the cathedral's gift shop, where we found a book describing each window and a coloring book of stained glass designs on translucent paper (by Paul Kennedy for Dover Coloring Books).

Six-year-old Emma grabbed a dreamy looking Madonna and Child from the coloring book, and set to work with felttipped pens. She was surprised to learn that every section of "glass" was not meant to be a different color; Mary's robe stretched out over many sections, outlined by the black "lead."

Before I discovered the elaborate coloring book, I'd stocked up one some cartoon paper of my own. Using onion- skin typing paper, the children drew designs in black pen and colored them in with crayons. Then we rubbed the finished product with a light film of vegetable oil (to make the paper even more translucent), and tapped our designs to the window for a lovely effect.

By this time we felt sure enough about our designing prowess to try a more tactile approach: "Stained Glass Cookies," made from a recipe in Evelyn Voskey's "Christmas Crafts for Everyone." Using ropes of cookielike "lead," we fashioned our cartoons. These were filled with crushed hard candies which melted in the oven to become our "glass."

I suppose we could have lacquered the cookies to become "sun catchers" or next year's Christmas tree ornaments, but we all found a more mouthwatering solution to their disposal.

It's not every day you get to eat a cartoon. Or a window.

Here's the recipe: Stained Glass Cookies 3/4 cup shortening (or part butter, part shortening), softened 1 cup sugar 2 eggs 1 teaspoon vanilla 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon salt 6 packages candy mints, or 1 pound sour balls, peppermint candies, or lollipops, crushed

Cream the sugar and shortening together; beat in the eggs with the extracts. Mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt, and stir this mixture into the shortening a little at a time.

Evelyn Voskey's book has a three-page description of how to manage the cookies; here's what we learned. The dough is fairly sticky, so flour your hands before you begin. Working with a punch at a time, roll out very thin coils (they spread in the oven). Form the coils into shapes, leaving large holes.

Fill the holes with crushed candies (I broke mine with a hammer between two sheets of waxed paper). You may use one color for each hole, or mix colors for a mottled effect -- ours did not blend, for some reason. Try to keep the layer of crushed candies even so that your "glass" will be smooth.

When the first cookie sheet is full, bake in a preheated 375- degree F. oven for seven to nine minutes, or until the cookie dough is starting to harden (it does not turn brown until past done). Remove the sheet, and allow the cookies to cool completely before removing them from the foil. We did not find it necessary to grease the foil beforehand.

This batch made a little over four sheets of cookie designs for us.

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