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Our Lady of Grace, Dearborn Heights, Michigan

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Featured Windows, February 2006

Margaret Cavanaugh: Michigan Artisan of Stained Glass


St. John's Seminary - Plymouth, Michigan

St. Mary Catholic Church - Williamston, Michigan

St. Hugo of the Hills Catholic Church - Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

There have been few women involved with such a whole lifetime of stained glass as has Margaret Bouchez Cavanaugh of Warren, MI. This month the Michigan Stained Glass Census is featuring several churches where Margaret supplied designs and/or the fabrication—her days at Detroit Stained Glass Works as well as time as an independent artist.

Born in Detroit, Margaret's family moved to Ohio where she attended a Catholic high school. Then she received an art degree from the College of Mt. St. Joseph in Cincinnati. After completing college Margaret returned to her native Detroit where she went to work for Detroit Stained Glass Works (DSGW). For a while she lived with her employers, the Irving family, as their daughter Mary Ellen also worked at the studio. The Irving family was the third generation of the Frederichs family, who began the stained glass company back in 1861. Frederichs and Staffin (later became DSGW), although it went out of business in 1970, today is still among the oldest stained glass studios in the United States along with the J&R Lamb Studios in New Jersey, Willet Studios in Philadelphia and the Judson Studios in Los Angeles.

Margaret's arrival at DSGW coincided with a very important studio job. She became part of the team submitting a bid to design the windows for the Chapel at St. John's Seminary in nearby Plymouth, MI. Three of the four team members were women (one of the others being Mary Ellen Irving), which caused some special "performance" conditions to be included in the contract. Thankfully times have changed!

The windows were designed after consultation with then Cardinal Mooney and other trained liturgists at the seminary. To prepare young men for the priesthood, the window iconography needed to have examples of "duty" and "inspiration." Although the building has a medieval appearance, the windows were strictly post-World War II European modernist in design. The artists arrived at designs that controlled the light by having the background glass of various shades of blue-turquoise, lake blue, gray-blue and into the violet range. This was accomplished by using French, German and English hand blown glass, as well as Blenko glass from Milton, WV.

St. John's Seminary, Plymouth, MI, MSGC 94.0067.

After DSGW closed, Margaret found it easy to freelance with various local architects. By then her work was well known within the Catholic community. In addition, Margaret's interest in theology, psychology and philosophy guided her into designing the complete worship space in many churches, including preparing Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Detroit for the 1988 visit of Pope John Paul II. She also was responsible for the funeral environment for the 1988 funeral mass of Cardinal Dearden at the Cathedral.

One of Margaret's interesting challenges was at Nativity Episcopal Church of Bloomfield Township, north of Detroit. The church did not want their view outside to be obstructed, so Margaret came up with an ingenious design which used sheet copper, copper foil technique and lovely hand blown glass for small meaningful vignettes which attach to the vertical window mullions.

St. Hugo of the Hills Catholic Church, Bloomfield Hills, MI, MSGC 00.0035.

Another interesting situation is found at St. Hugo's Catholic Church in Bloomfield Hills, MI where Margaret utilized specially hand blown roundels from a local artisan with sheet copper and copper foil technique.

In 1988 Margaret designed the windows for St. Mary's Catholic Church in Williamston, east of Lansing, MI. Margaret Cavanaugh feels her faith and her art have been closely joined. "The sense of light and color in stained glass windows is reflective of the scriptures and I want worshippers to experience God's presence which is a mystery."

St. Mary Catholic Church, Williamston, MI, MSGC 00.0030. Click image for detail.

April 21, 2008: The Michigan Stained Glass Census is sad to report the passing of a good friend, Margaret Cavanaugh. Margaret was somewhat of a mentor to Detroit area stained glass artists over the period of the last 30 years. She provided the Census with a lot of information concerning her career at the Detroit Stained Glass Works, and when she became an independent artist. From her obituary: "She went on to receive over 100 commissions during her long career, including: St. Martin De Porres in Warren; St. Cyprian Church in Riverview; St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Troy; Holy Cross Hospital Chapel in Detroit; St. Mary Catholic Church in Williamston; and St. Hugo of the Hills Catholic Church in Bloomfield Hills. Margaret received many accolades for her work and was asked to prepare the Blessed Sacrament Cathedral in Detroit for the 1987 visit of Pope John Paul II. Margaret's work was innovative and groundbreaking, and closely linked to her faith and the liturgy."

Bibliography: Show Bibliography

(MSGC 2000.0035, 1994.0067, 2000.0030)

Text by Barbara Krueger, Michigan Stained Glass Census, February , 2006.