HOLY DESIGNS
March 28, 2003 11:00 pm
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By BILL LUNDQUIST

Pilot Staff Writer

There's an ancient art to designing churches, and if that art is successful, the worshippers are inspired to think of God, not the artist.

Hospitality Tours gave 37 people the chance to meet one of those artists Wednesday when the group paid a visit to Roger Hogan Studios outside Fort Dick, Calif.

Others may put up the walls, but the Hogan family designs the interior and exterior details that turn a building into a church: stained glass windows, furniture, altars, lighting, and even brass work.

Hogan said there are only 50-80 artists in the nation capable of doing projects as large as the ones he handles.

Most of those are regional artists. Roger Hogan Studios operates on a national scale. His 12-20 person crew works on 10-20 projects at a time. Some can take up to a year and a half to complete.

The firm is impressive not only for its size, but for its lineage. Hogan's father learned the trade in Ireland under a great master: Harry Clark.

Hogan said his father immigrated to America with about $5 in his pocket. He eventually rented a studio in San Jose and began to ply his trade.

The elder Hogan earned a reputation for fine stained glass work. Roger expanded that reputation to all elements of church decor and design, even architecture.

Roger's father died in 1975, but Roger and his high school sweetheart and wife, Cynthia, are the core of a team that is carrying on the work. Their son and daughter are also heavily involved in the business.

Roger Hogan Studios came to Fort Dick 20 years ago.

"We just got put here," he said. "It turns out we'd never want to live anywhere else."

Roger put his first name on the firm because his brothers are also in the business in other parts of the country.

The Hogans work on an enormous scale. One inch-thick window weighs 30,000 pounds. Another is 105 feet tall and 58 feet wide.

Yet, all are composed of small panels made up of a jigsaw puzzle of hand-cut pieces.

The process, however, begins with theology, not glass. When Hogan is awarded a commission, he first meets with the church committee.

"They talk about theology," he said. "I translate it into color."

Hogan said yellow means joy, black means death, and brown means humility and service.

Shapes are just as meaningful. Straight lines stand for law, curved lines stand for grace.

"It's like a pathway to mystery," said Hogan of a completed design.

He said a window portraying the Crucifixion would be designed differently for various denominations.

The scene might include a fiery red sunset for a Pentecostal church, while another denomination may prefer a more delicate sunrise background.

"We design around light and the color in light," said Hogan.

Light and color depend on the type of glass. Some glass glows when lit by the sun. Other types, like rare mouth-blown glass, let the light through to illuminate the interior of the church. Each panel can include both types.

Glass sheets derive their colors from metals mixed into the silica. Hogan said there are color differences in what comes out of the top and bottom of vats of molten glass.

Because of that, some colors can never be duplicated. Hogan may keep certain glass sheets around for years before finding the perfect application for a unique color.

There are also different techniques for making stained glass windows. Hogan's father was trained in the European technique, where details like robes are painted onto colored glass.

With the Tiffany technique, robes are formed out of glass and fused to the background glass. Hogan said today's clients usually prefer the Tiffany method.

The studio begins a project by making drawings and models of the finished windows and church.

Hogan pointed out a scale drawing of a glass window that formed one wall of a Catholic church in Glendale, Ariz.

It was composed of dozens of five-foot by three-foot panels. Hogan said the completed window cost $250,000.

Each panel is drafted and the pattern printed out in vinyl by a machine. Hogan said his drafters suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome before they found the machine.

The patterns are then fixed to the proper colors of glass. Each is numbered. The shapes are hand cut out of sheets of glass, then assembled like jigsaw puzzles.

The pieces are fixed into panels with lead solder, and the panels are framed in steel. Grout is applied to waterproof the panels and the excess is scraped off by hand.

Hogan's crews rent large trucks to ship the panels to the churches, where they are assembled into windows.

Windows are only one of the liturgical elements Hogan designs for churches. His studio is a representative for a Pennsylvania manufacturer who specializes in curved pews.

Hogan showed a design he had done representing the loaves and the fishes. The motif was repeated throughout the interior design of the church. The studio also has a machine to cut and engrave brass.

Hogan said everyone in his studio's core group learns how to do everything before they gravitate to specialized areas. Employees are trained in-house.

Hogan has won more than 1,000 commissions. "Business is booming right now," he said.

Some of the windows are so beautiful that they are now being reproduced as framed watercolors and sold as hanging art.