Charles Ziegler Lawrence was a man who could have easily held his own in a conversation with the likes of Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, or Hunter S. Thompson. Whether reflecting on his life as a young artist in 1960s Greenwich Village or reliving the making of five windows for the National Cathedral, all of his stories were replete with an equal amount of psychedelic detail. Though the truth of the tale was never in question, the content was unbelievable.
Lawrence seemed as unlikely a candidate for the priesthood as he did for a life dedicated to liturgical art; however both are his truths. Sometimes tragic, sometimes triumphant, the personal history of this “existential iconoclast” blurs the thin line between humor and pathos. His professional success might very well be the reward for having learned how to walk that line.
From his obituary: Lawrence, 83, died on January 1, 2019. He began his career in 1956 as an apprentice to master craftsman Rudolph Henrick Beunz. In the 1960s while attending design school at Pratt Institute, New York City, Lawrence worked in the glass department of the Rambusch Decorating Studio where he perfected skills in glass painting and color selection. In 1968 he went to work for the Willets Stained Glass studio in Chestnut Hill, where he completed prestigious commissions for the National Cathedral, the Temple of the Latter Day Saints, and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, as well as the University of Rochester, and Penn State University. In the 1980s Lawrence established his own studio in Mt. Airy, Philadelphia, completing additional commissions for the National Cathedral, as well as works for the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, St. Mary’s at the Cathedral, Andorra, PA, the Burlington Bridge Commission in NJ, and the Gore-Tex Manufacturing Co., in Cherry Hill, NJ.
Lawrence received The Stained Glass Association of America’s faceted glass design award twice, the Interfaith and Forum on Religious Art and Architecture award twice, and the St. Francis Xavier Chapel Award of Excellence. In 1994, the SGAA presented Lawrence with its Lifetime Achievement Award. A senior advisor for the American Glass Guild, he was also an associate member of the British Society of Master Glass Painters.
There will never be another CZ, as he was affectionately known, partially because stained glass and what it takes to conquer the craft has forever changed. But the art and the artist will be represented throughout the ages by his many bold, gothic revival style masterpieces.
In 1994 Lawrence made his final window for the National Cathedral. This small, two-lancet window is located in the east end of the cathedral in the chaplain’s office. In most cases, he didn’t bother to make or apply the putty himself, but this time was special. Lawrence combined linseed oil, whiting, and lampblack, the major components, and added one last special ingredient—the ashes of Angus, his beloved dog who had died and was cremated during the making of his previous cathedral window.
Said Lawrence: “The cathedral was done, and Angus was in a safe place for the coming millennium. After that we will be together again. I am sure God knows how much I’ve missed him and She will bring us back together. Until then, I know I will always have a friend in the cathedral and so will Tracy, Vanessa, and whoever else comes after them.”
Recorded live at a coffee shop at the 2012 American Glass Guild conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this podcast conversation was created from the TOYG archives.