Glass worker revives old windows in Okolona

Wynelle Benson makes ornaments and jewelry from broken stained glass windows. The broken windows, which date back to 1908, had been placed in storage after a new addition was built onto the church. Benson melts the glass in a kiln to add shape and color. (Adam Robison)

Wynelle Benson makes ornaments and jewelry from broken stained glass windows. The broken windows, which date back to 1908, had been placed in storage after a new addition was built onto the church. Benson melts the glass in a kiln to add shape and color. (Adam Robison)

by Riley Manning
Daily Journal

OKOLONA – When members of the First United Methodist Church in Okolona found a broken set of the building’s original windows in the attic, they had little hope of reviving them.

But glass worker Wynelle Benson is breathing new life into the dim glass by firing and reshaping them into wearable pieces of the church’s 115-year history.

“It’s amazing to take a dingy piece of glass and make it something beautiful,” she said. “And it’s a way for people to take a piece of the church with them wherever they go.”

Benson, actually a member of Brewer Methodist Church, first came to Okolona FUMC for a funeral, and was captivated by the windows there.

“I was really fascinated by them,” she said. “I’ve always liked to research and preserve history, so I started digging.”

She found that a set of windows had been removed when the current fellowship hall was added onto the building, and sure enough, the windows were soon located in the attic of the church.

“But the glass was broken or falling out. There was no way they could use them,” she said.

But Benson could. She began working with glass in the ’70s, but fell out of the craft as her career as a nurse practitioner consumed her time. When she retired, she returned to it.

With a glass-cutter and a diamond-grade bit, Benson took the tarnished shards and reshaped them into crosses and Chrismon ornaments before firing them in the kiln, where the real transformation would take place.

At 1,575 degrees, the glass radically changes color and pattern. Any grime is completely removed.

“You can’t predict how it’s going to turn out,” she said. “It’s some of the craziest things you’ve ever seen.”

The original main centerpiece stained glass window at First United Methodist Church Okolona dates back to 1908 when the church was built. (Adam Robison)

The original main centerpiece stained glass
window at First United Methodist Church Okolona dates back to 1908 when the church
was built. (Adam Robison)

When the glass cools, she affixes them with pieces of freshwater pearl and fire dome gold to make necklaces, pendants, and ornaments.

Though certainly pretty on the outside, Benson sees her work with the old glass as a metaphor. She recalled the biblical Bezaleel, from the book of Exodus, whom God called to be a craftsman of gold, wood, and stones.

“I compare the state of the glass to ourselves,” she said. “We all have stains, dirt, and dimness in our lives, but God still purchased us when he died on the cross.”

As for Benson, she said she felt like she was doing God’s work. Before Okolona FUMC, she made glass jewelry as a fundraiser for her home church, and was amazed at the turnout.

“I never expected to get so much out of working with glass again,” she said. “The first time I did this, I was amazed people came all the way from Alabama or Holly Springs to buy pieces.”

Word of Benson’s talent has spread, and she reported receiving offers to help with projects from all over North Mississippi. She has even had people bring her glass they were otherwise going to throw away.

“I guess I’ll keep doing it as long as people keep giving me things,” she said.

riley.manning@journalinc.com

Open to the Public

UNTIL NOW, Benson’s work has been open only to the church members for purchase, but on Aug. 31, Okolona FUMC is opening its doors from 1 to 3 p.m. for anyone to come and buy. The
Chrismon ornaments will remain with the church, but may be dedicated in honor or memory of someon