Celtic Artisan: Maureen McGuire, Stained Glass Designer
By Lynn Herdman Mascarelli
There are McGuires and Mac Uldhirs everywhere and we’ve all heard of the Molly McGuires, but the latter has no place among the likes of our talented Celtic artisan, Maureen McGuire. Many of you know her story; her biography has appeared in newsprint, magazines and journals. But…we know her as one of us. At the Irish Cultural Center, Phoenix on the 15th of October 2013, she was honored at the Anam Cara Gala Awards Dinner, a very special occasion for the Irish community. It is she, a woman whose ancestors came to New York City during the Great Hunger, who designed the Hunger Memorial gracing the grounds of the Center. It is she who designed its stained glass windows.
Her family lived in the Irish enclave of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn where the higher you lived on the hill showed how much you had in the bank. Her grandfather was a building inspector and eventually her father, a graduate of Coopers Union and engineer, moved the family north to Oceanside on Long Island. Her mother, seeing at once her daughter’s eye for design, researched tirelessly the best schools for Maureen to attend and her subsequent education and training in art and design led her to the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University.
Though its curriculum favored heavily the training of ceramics engineering, production pottery and design, all kinds of art were offered. Maureen dove in, happy to be at a place where amazing things were created, the possibilities in design endless: for one, the ceramic nose-cone used in the first space probe originated at this institution of learning. While a student there, the construction of a new building for students was underway. Maureen’s design classes, held in the basement of the ceramics building, did the research for the architect. Interestingly, she explained that it is the architect who wraps a building around a program and it was she and her classmates, working in blocks of specialization, who researched the needs of students and staff alike. Her artistry came into play. She was a natural illustrator; her talents recognized.
Gradually she became aware of the numerous design possibilities before her, of particular interest, the designing of churches and her passion liturgical art. Having grown up in a devout Irish Catholic family, the Church and an evening rosary prayed each night at the dinner table were vivid memories. Maureen had been surrounded by symbolism in religious art and her opportunity to shine in this area would come when the Dean of Ceramics asked her to assist him with a personal project, the designing of stain glass windows for a church in great disrepair in the nearby town of Alfred-Almond. The experience made her want more of the same.
An opportunity to come to Arizona opened up when Charles Schumacher, an Alfred alumni and manager of the well-known Glassart Studio in Scottsdale, sought a promising, young artist to become an apprentice in designing stained glass under his tutelage. Maureen would jump at the chance but not before snatching up an opportunity to study in Europe. She had dreamt of this but had said to her self over and over, “Not bloody likely!”
In an unusual turn of events, her uncle, a Vincentian priest, made it possible for her to meet with none other than New York City’s famed Cardinal Spellman, who with his own family money, was providing scholarships for art and music students to study at the Pope Pius XII Institute graduate school of music and art in Florence, Italy. Here she would be a student within the 15th C. d’Medici home and former residence of F.D. Roosevelt’s Ambassador to the Vatican, Myron C. Taylor. With portfolio in hand, Maureen applied through Rosary College now Dominican University in River Forest, Illinois. Her artwork was impressive, among them a gift crafted for her sister’s wedding, an exquisitely crafted family rosary of rosewood and silver with ebony cross and shallow tray to store and display it. She would be accepted at Pope Pius XII for a year of study with the help of a speedy Berlitz course in Italian.
But Arizona was waiting. In 1963 when she stepped off the plane at Sky Harbor, she felt she was home at last. At Glassart in Scottsdale, she did everything an apprentice would do, even scrubbing the bathrooms from top to bottom. Maureen would eventually become an independent designer, spending the next 45 years designing large-scale liturgical, commercial, and residential stained glass; joining with numerous studios all over the country in the fabrication and installation of hundreds of major commissioned windows. Her work includes Lincoln Drive Bible Church and Paradise Valley United Methodist Church.
I ask each of my Celtic artisans the same questions; first, what did this artist consider her most significant piece. One day, she said, while working alone in the studio, Jim McGrath, an architect, came to her with a breathtaking project; he rolled out before her the plans for a beautiful new church on Lincoln Drive to which Joe Lincoln’s mother had donated thousands. To Maureen’s delight, half of the church was stained glass; her liturgical designs would be transformed into windows glorifying the Creation, Redemption and Resurrection…the bell tower window, filled with flames of enlightenment against a dark blue background. The Church of all Christian Faiths would eventually be named Lincoln Drive Bible Church and her stained glass window designs would subsequently grace most of the churches along Lincoln Drive. Among them, the stained glass windows of Paradise Valley United Methodist Church, is one of her special art pieces. At night, these stunning abstract designs, light up the drive.
Could she name a favorite piece among so many? She has many, but she recalled Saint Wendelin’s Church in Fostoria, Ohio, a small city so well known for its crystal-like glass, shards of it could be found everywhere in the soil. Though the glass itself is considered antique, today no more can be found. The old church sadly had been condemned. Assisting in the restoration of statues, the altar and ambo, even the pulpit, Maureen threw herself into the project. Old Victorian catalogue designs in glass windows would be replaced with the kind of design she loved most: abstract representational, pieces of which are beautifully portrayed today in her brochures.
I asked what might have been her darkest moment, her least favorite experience as a designer of so many admired stained glass commissions. Neither example she gave pertained to her liturgical design. With a Masters in Art and at minimum wage, she, as a young woman, had worked four years as a designer for a studio; others, receiving $600 bonuses at Christmas, she a book or Poinsettia. When Maureen asked for a raise the owner simply stated it would be a waste of his time…she was a woman. What benefit would she be to him in the long run? Some years later he would call and ask, “Am I speaking to the famous Maureen McGuire?”
I cringed having endured the same and worse when she recalled being laughed out of a bank when she sought a loan to purchase a home for her studio. She was single, the bankers said, self-employed, an artist…and a woman.
And today, what of her future, what does she still seek to do after having achieved so much? I was not prepared for her answer. “Herein lies my dilemma,” Maureen shared. “I have achieved all my goals.” Who says this…how many of us will ever say this?
Maureen McGuire has accomplished all she set out to do. For now she has turned her artistic endeavor inward, satisfying her need to sculpt and to paint; her preferred subject matter people. Not limiting herself to portraiture, she pursues the subtleties of still life and floral components; her preferred medium: watercolor, pastel and acrylic in that order.
“I’m building a body of work,” she explained. They will be online in the future. She has shown in curb shows and won Best of Show at the Glendale Fine Arts show. Her memberships in art organizations include the Arizona Watercolor Association and Portrait Artists of Arizona. Here this finest of designers feels a sense of fulfillment but admits she shies away from most organizations, having found the infighting and politics daunting; thus, driving people away. She loves her home, her studio and told me while growing up, she always had to share a room with another…now she finally has her “own room.”
The insightful Elisabeth Kubler-Ross reminds us, “People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within.”
Maureen McGuire’s designs do just that…reflecting her soul, her beauty within.
Her glasswork may be found at www.maureenmcquiredesigns.com.
Tabernacle at St. Paul’s and at several other churches as well like St. Bernard’s in Scottsdale
St. Jerome Catholic Church, Phoenix, 70s or early 80s made with 1” thick faceted glass cast in epoxy matrix