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Saint Stephens Indian Mission Foundation

Something Special-CHURCH WINDOWS

For centuries, stained glass windows have been installed in churches, great and small.  After remodeling St. Stephen's church interior, efforts turned toward replacement of the windows.  Sister Monica Suhayda and Bob Spoonhunter, Director of the Mission Center for Native Arts, agreed that the new windows should compliment the unique designs within the church and that the church interior design crew could make the windows themselves.  In 1996, arrangements were made for Ms Sally Wesaw, from Central Wyoming College, to come and teach the crew on the skills of stained glass. 


Sally Wesaw explains a pattern to
Sister Monica Suhayda, CSJ. and
Martin Blackburn.

Bob Spoonhunter shows an example
of a design in the first stage of development.

Curtis Oldman and Richard Littleshield
affix new stained glass into the original
window frames.



This window was the first attempt of the group.  The design and construction was a collaborative effort and experiment.  In designing "Wind River"  a variety of symbols used to give a visual and abstract representation of the Wind River Reservation. Symbols include ones for elk and deer hoofs, mountains, bear paws, trails, tipis, star and turtles.  Beyond merely juxtaposing shapes and symbols, the focus was on the technical aspects of cutting, foiling and soldering glass pieces into a structurally sound yet aesthetically pleasing window.


"The Hunt" was designed by Curtis Oldman who placed the diamond symbol for a person in the center of each panel.  To the sides are deer hoofs in green.  Elk hoofs are represented by green triangles with a connecting green rectangle.  Yellow represents the light of day.  The rounded top section represents a mountain and a wedge shape stylizes a bear paw symbol.


A collaborative effort  with a design by Verne Willow and construction by Curtis Oldman, led to a beautiful window called "Bear Shield."  The top half is made in a circular or shield shape.  Contained in this round shape are mirror images of a bear paw done in blue with the mountain symbols in red and yellow.  Majestically falling from the shield are a pair of large cloud symbols.


Bob Spoonhunter came up with the design for this window after being inspired by a beaded legging he once saw in a museum.  The original design, of Arapaho origin, is recreated in the two bottom panels of this window.  The central element is a morning star symbol constructed in yellow, dark blue and red against a green diamond-shaped symbol for a lake.  Above and below this are modified caterpillar symbols.  Set against a white background, these elements are framed by the Arapaho trail symbol.  The two center panels each contain a pair of square bear paw symbols in yellow, dark blue and red against a green mountain symbol.  A caterpillar symbol separates each of the bear paws.


"Creation" was designed by Martin Blackburn using symbols for figures and event in the Arapaho story of creation.  In the two bottom panels, the yellow diamond represents the first man sitting with a pipe on the ocean.  Above and below are chevron-shapes representing ducks who helped create the world by diving into the water for mud.  The large chevrons at the top and bottom are clouds and along each side are mountain symbols done in black.  In the center of each mountain design is a symbol for the mythological cave of the buffalo, where legend says the buffalo came from.  The yellow diamonds represent the turtle who brought the mud from the ocean floor and made the world.


Another Curtis Oldman design uses nature symbols to portray change in life.  The central design is the Arapaho symbol for a caterpiller, who eventually changes into a moth or butterfly.  Done in orange, dark blue and yellow, the trio of caterpillers are arranged down the center against a white background.  Flanking the caterpillers are variations of a mountain symbol done in red.  The symbol of a trail surrounds the design elements along the edges of each section.


"Butterfly" is the creation of Bob Spoonhunter.  The central symbols in the lower panels is a Whirlwind Woman design.  This disc-shaped symbol was traditionally used on the hoods of baby cradles and also on the outside of  Arapaho tipis.  This particular pattern was taken from an Arapaho cradle at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.  Above and below this are horizontal diamond-shaped symbols for navel bags. Umbilical cords of babies were historically saved as a form of good luck amulet.  Separating these elements are horizontal bars in red, black and yellow, which are symbols for trails.  The upper panels incorporate the trail symbol, with halves of the navel bag symbol above and below the red, yellow and black butterfly symbol.


"Blue Cloud", a creation of Martin Blackburn, represents the Northern Arapaho.  The center of each bottom panel, the yellow circle ringed with orange and red is a symbol for the sun, giver of life.  Surrounding the sun in four directions are blue cloud symbols, representing the Arapaho who were known as the Blue Cloud People by some Plains tribes.  Above and below the central sun and cloud symbols are bars of red, orange and yellow, the symbol for trails.  Mountain symbols in yellow, orange and red are placed at the top and bottom of each panel.  These symbols portray the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, the historical homeland of the Arapaho.  The two panels in the lower half of the top section contain mountain symbols in yellow, orange and red.  These connected symbols represent the reflection of mountains in Grand Lake, a sacred site for Arapaho in the Colorado mountains.


The half-moon shaped window over the front doors of the church is patterned after a star quilt design.  This design is common to many tribes in the Great Plains region of the United States and Canada.  The Arapaho word for this pattern translates into English as "Star Blanket."  This window was a collaborative effort in design and construction.


"Neyooxetisei" is the name given to the large round window on the front of the bell tower (see HOME page).  In English, this name means "Whirlwind Woman."  According to tribal legend, Whirlwind Woman was one of the persons who helped create the world.  Once the Creator made the world, it was a little smaller than expected so Whirlwind Woman used her powers to enlarge it.  She travelled in circuits around the earth, making it larger as she went and creating quillwork designs to mark her trail.  These symbols later formed the foundation of a quillwork society among Arapaho women, whom Whirlwind Woman taught the art of porcupine-quilling and the ceremonies for creating certain objects.  Among these objects were tipi ornaments made of quilled discs.  Four of these discs were attached at intervals to the outside of tipis, and a fifth attached at the very top at the back.  The same style disc ornaments were also used on baby cradles.  The pattern for the bell tower window was adapted from an Arapaho baby cradle.  The design and construction of this window was a collaborative effort of Bob Spoonhunter, Martin Blackburn and Curtis Oldman.

St. Stephens Indian Mission Foundation
P.O. Box 278
St. Stephens, Wyoming 82524