Ashland group creates stained glass windows for Italian church

A small, stone, Catholic church constructed during the Renaissance in north central Italy will soon be home to a set of stained glass windows created by a group of local women.

The group, all art novices from the MetroWest Worship Center in Ashland, cut and painted the glass, assembling the pieces in a 10-week class taught by Michael Martino of Martino's Stained Glass Studio. They were surprised by the finished product. "It was very rewarding, a labor of love," said Geraldine Bowditch of Westborough."None of us has ever done anything like this. I don't even like doing arts and crafts," said Donna Cucinotta of Marlborough.

The windows -- one representing the bread of life, from John 6:35; the second representing the light of the world, from John 8:11; and the third representing the fruit of the vine, from John 15:5 -- each measure 24-by-34 inches.

They will be packed and shipped in the next few weeks to St. Teresa of Alvia, a church in Selvapina, a farming village known for its grapes in the province of Emelia.

The church wants to dedicate the windows at a ceremony in mid-October, but Martino and the five women say they'll probably wait until next spring to make a visit.

Martino, who has run his own studio since 1975, planned to do the windows himself as a way to give back to friends in Italy who helped him during his youth, until Cucinotta volunteered her classmates.

Back in 1971, shortly after graduating from Framingham North High, Martino made a trip to Italy for what was supposed to be a brief stay.

He ended up staying three years. He learned how to make and restore stained glass after joining an apprentice program run by Maestro Lindo Grassi of the Grassi Vetrate d'Arte in Milan.

"My first night I spent in Italy in October of 1971 I slept in Selvapina," said Martino. "I arrived in Milan and people who were friends of my mother growing up, took me up to the village where they had a house and I slept there that weekend."

The matriarch of the Grasselli family, whom Martino lived with for nine months, was a boarding mate of Martino's mother, who left Italy at 14, just before World War II broke out.

"I'm very grateful," he said. "This family took me in like a son and changed my life."

Last fall, Martino started the stained glass class, one of 25 or so small groups at the church he attends, to get members together for prayer, to learn a hobby and have fun with one another.

The group made ornaments for Christmas and other small gifts. Last January, when Martino returned from Italy on business, he told the women about the small church the Grasselli family attended on occasion, and how he planned to make and donate a set of windows.

Cucinotta spoke up because "some of us needed a goal," she said. "We wanted to do something worthwhile."

Nikolai Bruinskay, a stained glass artist from the Ukraine who has worked with Martino for years, did the sketches and left the rest of the work for the group.

The women, who met once a week, spent as much time cracking jokes, gabbing and having a good time, they said, as they did working on the windows.

Gaye Rice, who moved to MetroWest from Illinois a year ago, said she joined the group simply to meet nice people.

"Everyone was a class clown," said Jayne Rice. "There was a lot of laughing. It was a miracle we got anything done."

Louisa French, a floral designer from Upton, said it was "a huge leap of faith" for Martino to trust them to do the project.

Years from now, someone at St. Teresa of Alvia may glance at the windows, see the signatures at the bottom and wonder who we are, said Bowditch.

"We're leaving our mark," she said. It's a big deal "considering we're just a bunch of housewives and mothers," she said.

600450 Ashland group creates stained glass windows for Italian church

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