The liturgical calendar, observing religious traditions such as Advent at Christmas, has been an important element in Josy Trageser’s life. So incorporating religion into her art seemed a natural thing to do.
And for a while in the late 1960s, the 1961 Edgecliff graduate with a master’s degree in art from the University of Notre Dame had a business that produced more than 200 chalices and other church items such as tabernacles and processional crosses. But business dried up after the death of Pope John XXIII, whom she credits with opening up new opportunities for church art.
Since then, she’s kept busy teaching art, including 11 years at Xavier from 1973 to 1984, and working as an independent artist with frequent trips to her native Menton on the French Riviera. She also perfected her favorite medium—enamel art—the fusion of glass on copper at 1,500 degrees.
About four years ago, the requests for religious items began pouring in again, and Trageser was ready. What triggered the resurrection of her liturgical art, in part, was a commission in 1999 to create a personalized chalice for Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati on the 25th anniversary of his appointment as bishop. She also made him a matching paten—the plate that holds the communion hosts—and an oil stock to hold holy oil.
She also completed a mural for Ursuline Academy in Blue Ash, where she once taught art. Then St. Columban Church called. The Loveland parish north of Cincinnati wanted an artist to create a tabernacle for their newly built church. She got the job. The church liked it so much, it also hired her to do the stations of the cross.
In her Wyoming, Ohio, garage, which hasn’t see a car in years, Trageser painstakingly prepared each 12-by-12- inch brightly colored piece, plus a larger colored panel for each piece to be mounted on.
Each panel, mounted between the windows of the church, depicts a stop on the way of the cross, the story of Jesus’ death by crucifixion.
To make each picture, she used a stencil to sift colored glass onto the copper, then added gum tragacanth to hold the powdered glass in place. Then she fired the panel in the oven to melt the glass.
“Each piece is fired 13 to 15 times,” she says, while describing the ribbon of color she created that, like a rainbow, moves through all the colors from red to green to purple and back to orange.
“I did these colors because that’s what was coming to me. It was a marvelous project. Artistically it’s like being in heaven. I used every color available.”