When Megan McElfresh, the executive administrator of the Stained Glass Association of America, first agreed to partner with Chuck LaChiusa of Explore Buffalo for a series of historical tours, the the thought was each session would attract about 10 people.
Seems the duo misjudged the popularity. An average of 20 people have shown up every other week for the Houses of Worship walking tour. Each session features two religious buildings in Buffalo, N.Y., with LaChiusa describing the architecture and McElfresh detailing the stained glass.
The success helped lead to an expansion of the Houses of Worship tours. Sacred Spaces, thanks to a Community Foundation for Great Buffalo grant from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr., Legacy Funds, will allow Explore Buffalo to offer bus tours, expand the popular walking tours, and add bicycle tours in the summer of 2020 as well.
"Explore Buffalo is passionate about these tours. These sites are an important part of our cultural heritage," said Suzanne Ernst of Explore Buffalo.
And for McElfresh, it's an easy connection to become involved with Explore Buffalo, a non-profit that promotes Buffalo and Western New York's history, architecture, and neighborhoods through quality education to learners of all ages. It's an opportunity for the SGAA to educate the public not just on the history of stained glass, but the art and technique of the craft and its vibrant present life.
"There was a time when we used to understand these spaces by default and that's not true anymore," McElfresh said. "So anything we can do as artisans and craftspeople to raise awareness about our field and how we do what we do and why we're passionate about it -- that's going to be contagious for our community. Passion is contagious. My passion and Chuck's passion is contagious and I think we can see that in the success of these tours. We're getting to see a side of these spaces that's usually totally hidden. We're learning to see again."
The 2019 season included six dates, visiting classic sites in Buffalo, including Trinity Episcopal Church, home to both Tiffany and LaFarge windows and Temple Beth Zion with a masterful work designed by artist Ben Shahn.