The Man Who Does Windows

James Piechowski, 40, who began tinkering with stained glass while a senior at St. Monica Catholic High School in Santa Monica, is today one of Los Angeles' premier stained-glass artists. At his Venice studio, he has created windows for dozens of local churches, hospitals and hundreds of private residences. Piechowski has even done a yoga studio. His larger-scale projects can cost more than $100,000.

*

What percentage of your work is for churches?

Probably 75% is ecclesiastic. The majority of the work we do is retrofitting churches built between the '40s and '60s that never had stained glass.

*

All Catholic?

They have been. We're more known in the Catholic market because I do liturgy conferences, where we get a booth.

*

You often collaborate with a nun?

Sister Genevieve Underwood. We began the collaboration back in 1985. When people think of stained glass, they think of Louis Comfort Tiffany style, very traditional, often with a Christ figure represented. We use a lot of movement with line and color. There's not usually a Christ. We believe [a church] already is a sacred space. We'd rather see something completely abstracted.

*

Any rules regarding, say, the color of Mary's hair or Jesus' beard? Or are you free to go crazy?

There are certain colors that mean certain things. Red is a more sacred color that means the Passion of Christ. Purple is kind of a paschal sacrifice. There's no strict dogma, though. I've done Jesus with purple hair.

*

Anything you won't do?

I probably wouldn't do anything satanic.

*

What's the most popular stained-glass iconography?

In Southern California, Our Lady of Guadalupe. That's a traditional don't-mess-with-me image. She's popular in the Latin community. You'll see the image on the back of Hispanic men, tattooed.

*

Tell us about your current project.

Loyola Marymount [University] just bought the old Hughes Aircraft building off Lincoln Boulevard. They're turning one of the rooms into a center of prayer and peace. We've been invited to design these 10-by-7-foot floor-to-ceiling windows. Because of the freedom they've allowed us, they're going to get one incredible window.

*

What makes a window incredible?

It shouldn't be too overwhelming [or] too wild. The design should work with both interior and exterior. We look at the direction of the sun to see how light is going to hit. Does it get direct or diffused light? Are there trees? Other buildings around? Is there a privacy issue where we want to put in darker glass? Is the nudist club next door going to be a nuisance?

*

This being Southern California . . . .

Don't mention earthquakes. Probably what's worse than earthquakes is being close to the ocean--the salt content--and pollution. The lead gets oxidized. And because of all the candle burning and incense, there's a lot of residue. Restoration is a huge business now.

*

But each shaker doesn't make you nuts?

It's job security. That and kids with rocks. What's more a norm now is a stray bullet or someone who's angry at God.

*

James Piechowski Stained Glass Studio, 1903 Lincoln Blvd., Venice, (310) 301-9799, www.piechowskiglass.com.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
59°