About two years ago during Mass, while looking up at the window in the balcony of St. James Church in Jacob’s Prairie, Benedictine Father Julius Beckermann was struck with inspiration: to have an image of an angel playing a trumpet created in stained glass.
“When I was standing at the altar and I would look up at the balcony, I would always picture how it would be so beautiful to have an angel up there,” he recalled. “That was my hope for that window.”
Father Beckermann asked one of his parishioners, stained glass artist Christi Becker, to create the image based on a statue he admired at the Assumption Community nursing home in Cold Spring, where he served as chaplain.
Becker agreed to create the window and went to see the statue, which was kept in the basement of the nursing home because it was in a state of disrepair.
“I couldn’t leave there without offering to restore the beautiful statue Father Julius loved,” Becker said. “Except I wanted it to be a surprise.”
After completing the window, Becker worked secretly on the statue as part of her Lenten sacrifice. On Easter morning, Becker said she “snuck it behind the altar” at the nursing home.
“I felt so led by my angels to be presented with [the opportunity],” Becker said. “They knew I couldn’t turn it away. It felt good to offer up my time and effort for Lent and on Easter to rejoice not only for the risen Christ but also in presenting my beautiful result to the church.”
Angels and light
Becker has always felt close to angels. Stepping through the doors of her Cold Spring studio, guests are welcomed from every direction by images of the spiritual beings, creating a sense of serenity and peace when entering her sacred workspace.
“I feel that I’m on this earth to spread God’s light, and my way of doing that is through angels,” she said.
Light flows from the wide windows in her gallery and bounces off the galvanized metal ceiling. A large swing suspended from the rafters offers visitors a chance to soar through the air, not unlike the angelic images that are so significant to Becker.
Growing up in Richmond, Becker admired the stained-glass windows at Sts. Peter and Paul Church.
“I was inspired by the light coming through them. What was the artist thinking when they designed them? Why did they choose those colors? The main theme that has always progressed through my life is the light,” she said.
Someone once told Becker that painting on stained glass is like painting with light. And for her, that is exactly what she feels like she is doing. She has been creating stained glass art for nearly 20 years.
“When I’m drawing, I focus on the lighting,” she said. “When I’m thinking of my subject, I think about spreading the light. When I think about nature, I’m drawn to the light. When I pray, I want God’s light to shine on me. When I think of someone who is having problems, I ask that God’s light come through me to them. Everything has to do with light.”
Although she has a diverse portfolio, angels are still her favorite subject. There are more than 200 references to angels in the Bible, and Becker believes they are messengers from God who teach us how to live.
“I truly believe that they work with us every day, all the time. The unfortunate part is most people aren’t listening or paying attention,” she said. “We have to let them know that they can intervene and help us. God gives them to us to help us get through life.”
A pivotal moment in her career was when she was asked to create an original porcelain angel for one of her dealers.
“That angel has a real special meaning. The angel formed herself. I didn’t know what she was going to look like. I took the clay and just started forming. She was in there. I was the tool and the angel was the master,” Becker remembered.
Ministry of mourning
Becker’s work can be found all over the United States, her stained-glass creations are often commissioned through dealers to be used in churches and mausoleums. She also diamond etches intricate scenes and designs on granite tombstones.
Much of her work, she said, is for those who are grieving the loss of loved ones. Currently, she has accepted a contract for an interactive wall mural at Crescent Cove, one of only a handful of hospice homes for children in the United States. Crescent Cove is scheduled to open in November in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.
“I just want to put a smile on people’s faces. I want to make the family smile. I feel like even though I don’t always have direct contact with the families, I make it a point to think about what they are going through. I just want to bring a little bit of light to them in such a dark time,” she said.
And their stories impact her work. Once she worked with a woman on an image for a tombstone for her deceased husband.
“She told me, ‘I love what you did with his hands. I always loved holding his hand.’ And I took that to heart. For me, tombstones aren’t for the people who are dead, they are for the people who are alive to go to the cemetery and think about their loved one.
Their stories come out in my artwork,” she said.
She often incorporates meaningful elements in her artwork, some more subtle than others. Sometimes she places images in a triangular pattern or adds three birds in the sky to represent the Holy Trinity.
“My art is definitely a ministry for me,” she said. “Everything in my life has led to comforting people through my art. My passion is art, and my purpose is to help people and to spread God’s light.”
Although much of Becker’s work is spread across the nation, some of her work has remained local.
She created windows at St. Benedict Church in Avon, Sacred Heart Church in Sauk Rapids, and one might encounter her tombstone designs in local cemeteries.
And, of course, there’s the window she designed for St. James in Jacob’s Prairie.
“My hope is that any priest that follows, when they look up at the window, that they are inspired by it,” Father Beckermann said.
“The image has always been significant to me and I hope it will continue to be meaningful for all who see it.”