The Jewel Box Church
By Linda Jade Fong and Bonnie Quirin
The title, “The Jewel Box Church”, is fitting for Patagonia’s small,100-year-old Methodist Church. Its contemporary stained-glass windows provide clear, jewel-like colors shimmering throughout the sanctuary in the day and glowing out to walkers and highway drivers at night. You might call it an installation piece of radiant art created primarily by the gifted late Patagonia artist Jean Burger.
Back In 1988, the church’s interior was described as “neutral box”. There were two recently completed stained glass windows, a small one in the tiny entrance and a large Mary Myers one on the west wall dedicated to Carrie Thurber, the wife of Harold Thurber who built the large, very high-ceiling adjacent hall for church and community events.
The other windows in the church were one-colored amber.
Jean, a longtime church member, said she imagined the sanctuary alive with blue, gold, red, violet and green refracting from the incoming sunlight. She put together a proposal for 18 panels of stained glass, and the then-pastor Stewart Lewis and church trustees and congregation enthusiastically approved her designs and project.
As they fund-raised, Jean set to work on what would be an immense undertaking for one artist by anyone’s standards. “Each piece was hand-cut and hand-soldered,” she is quoted as saying in an 1990 Nogales International interview with Posy Piper. “It is the same process as Louis Tiffany used for his leaded glass windows.” Before this, her art was painting and silver-smithing. She now began what would take four years of seven-days-a-week work.
The front window alone contains 1200 pieces of glass and 17 pounds of solder, and took 90 hours of Burger’s time to complete. Set against a blue sky background with a flying dove in each corner, it features a softly-shaped, pink-bordered cross made up of a multitude of pastel spring blooms. It was a personal gift from Jean and her husband to the church.
Each of the 18 panels is titled along with stories of the symbolism in each. Not only are there the expected crosses and chalices, but also a lush and delightful array of butterflies, roses, violets, birds, and even a peacock.
The church’s stained glass project and Jean were featured in a national television show produced by the United Methodist Church in 1990. In 1992, all 18 panels were completed, and a dedication service was held. That’s when Rev. John Jenkins came up with the title, “The Jewel Box Church”.
To really appreciate the artistry, craftsmanship, and uplifting spiritual experience of the church’s stained glass windows, everyone is welcome to step inside the sanctuary. You can feel the magic of being surrounded by ever changing colors in the sunlight, but also the magic of the details, like carved orbs of sparkling glass catching light in a way nothing else can. It is truly an opportunity to step inside an exquisite jewel box.
The Patagonia Community United Methodist Church is celebrating its 100-year Centennial in 2023 and will be open to the public during set times at Artwalk in November 2023 and every Sunday morning. See www.patagoniaumc.org or call 520-394-2274.