UMW’s gift of stained glass a labor of love

A large stained glass art project dedicated to a former educator will be dedicated at The University of Montana Library on July 23 at 11 a.m. Hidden within the scene are numerous symbols representing various academic disciplines. submitted photo


On Wednesday, July 23, at 11 a.m. Dillon resident, Richard Kennedy,  will gather with his family and friends to dedicate, with a memorial plaque, the stained glass windows given  by the Kennedy family to the University of Montana – Western in memory of Alice M. Kennedy, teacher, artist, and alumna of the school.  The community is invited to the dedication, which will be followed by a reception.

In June, UMW faculty and friends were present at the library to welcome the installation of the windows that depict “The Tree of Knowledge.”  This stained glass representation measures 7.5 feet  by 16 feet and fills four floor-to-ceiling windows in the library. The windows were designed and fabricated in the Kennedy’s Stained Glass Studio in Billings by Susan Kennedy Sommerfeld and her staff as a tribute to her mother.  Alice taught her daughter Susan, the art of stained glass; therefore, this art piece is a fitting memorial.  The piece is also appropriate for a branch of the university system that features glass blowing in its curriculum.

Alice Kennedy served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, marrying Richard (Dick) Kennedy on June 2, 1945, while both were still enlisted.  Five children graced their marriage. In the early 1970s, after retiring from teaching, Alice searched stained glass studio after stained glass studio until she found the most beautiful work and the best workmanship.  She walked in the door and said, “I want to study at this studio.”  

She always said her favorite color was rainbow, so stained glass work was a perfect match.   

In addition to being a beautiful  portrayal of western landscape, the artwork features a majestic tree that contains symbols of academic disciplines hidden in its branches. Other academic disciplines are suggested by the landscape itself.  It is for the viewer to find the symbols hidden in the tree and to contemplate those areas of study that involve our natural world. 

“I wanted the design to reflect my mother’s love of learning – a love that she passed on to her children, her grandchildren, and her students,“ says Sommerfeld, who has followed in her mother’s footsteps by becoming an accomplished stained glass artist and owner of one of Montana’s major glass studios. 

From the first day of drawing the design to scale on paper taped to mirrors in a dance studio, the designers, Sommerfeld and Dillon artist, Jean James, saw this interactive presentation as unique.  It was a challenge to choose the symbols for each discipline and to construct four windows of this magnitude.


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