PIQUA — It wasn’t that many years ago when Reva (Stephenson) Holtvogt spent her childhood cavorting around the family’s rural property on Spiker Road searching for baby turtles and frogs in a nearby creek, sledding down snow-laden hills and building forts from abandoned logs with her brothers, Mark and Craig.
Although she was a tomboy as an adolescent, she quickly points out she also enjoyed “dressing up and playing with dolls.” As a nine-year-old, she took her first knitting lesson and became fascinated with a craft kit she received as a gift.
“It was a mosaic picture of a pheasant —probably three feet long by 14 inches wide — consisting of gold braid, sprinkles, crushed stone and glue,” she recalls. “It was very 1950s and my mother hung it in the living room.”
In fact, her grandmother was so enamored with the finished product that she gave Holtvogt another kit, once again a pheasant.
Today, the Piqua resident has traded in colorful pheasant plumes for more “glitz and glam.” To friends and family, she is a multi-talented individual who not only enjoys knitting sweaters or baby blankets, but applying decorative beads to everything from necklaces and bracelets to decorative serving spoons and stems of margarita glasses. And when she does have spare time, she loves to put smiles on everyone’s face when she prepares a meal in the home she shares with her husband, Bill, makes decorations for the couple’s grandsons, or delivers a plate of Christmas cookies or her renowned chocolate peanut butter cakes during the holidays.
The Holtvogts, who’ve been married 43 years, are co-owners of Bisko Auto Books in Piqua. They are the parents of two sons, Ben and Adam, and doting grandparents to three grandsons.
For the past three decades, both she and St. Mary parishioner, Mary Teach, have been instrumental in orchestrating the Easter and Christmas decorations which adorn windows, balcony and altar, the latter which is festooned with 30 red and three white poinsettia plants on Christmas Eve.
In recent months, Holtvogt, a 1972 graduate of Lehman Catholic High School and the American Floral Art School in Chicago, has focused her attention on creating two special glass Christmas ornaments for the parishioners at St. Mary and St. Boniface Catholic Churches in Piqua.
The beautiful snowflake and star designs are each centered with a small remnant of 150-year-old glass taken from the original stained windows installed at St. Mary in 1865.
With the restoration of St. Mary’s stained glass windows in 2013, she explained, a small amount of the glass was salvaged by “dear friends” Michael and Ann Blanck, of Blanck Studio of Art LLC, who also restored St. Boniface windows.
“At the time, both Bill and myself were fusing glass crosses together for family and friends,” she continued, when asked her motivation to create ornaments. “Bill would cut the glass strips and I would glue both pieces together. A glassblower friend, Dennis Walker, would place the crosses in a kiln and fire them at 1200 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 hours.”
When the St. Mary stained glass windows became damaged due to discoloration by the sunlight, there were remnant of glass in colors of blue, green, purple, red and a green-marble hue,” Holtvogt said.
In November 2015, she approached the Rev. Fr. Thomas Bolte, pastor of both churches, to discuss the idea of creating Christmas ornaments using the glass remnants. Holtvogt credits her idea for creating glass snowflakes and a Christmas star with a piece of historic glass taken from the church windows as “divine intervention.”
Clear glass, explained Holtvogt, was broken down into smaller pieces by a frit maker and pounded to appropriate sizes, sifted, and fit into molds before being placed in her own kiln and fired overnight. The two were fused together to form the delicate ornaments which are each centered with a small piece of the stained glass.
Holtvogt candidly admits she’s devoted hundreds of hours in creating 600 ornaments for both parishes since only 10 ornaments can be made within a 24-hour period. Each is tied with silver thread and placed into an organza bag. Depending upon the choice of ornament, verses about the “Meaning of the Snowflake” by Kelley Gerth and a “Christmas Star” by an unknown author are also added.
Orders are now being taken for either a small star or snowflake decoration at $5 each or the large snowflake at $10. All proceeds are being returned by Holtvogt to the parishes’ mission projects and St. Mary Help-a-Student Fund. She emphasizes all orders must be prepaid by cash or check payable to St. Mary Church and sent to her home address at 4 Hopewood, Piqua, OH 45356. She noted order forms are available in the back of each parish.
In return for her tenacity and hard work, Holtvogt is compensated $1 per ornament to cover costs such clear glass, electricity to fire the kiln, and lubricant used to spray the molds.
When asked what satisfaction, she has gained from undergoing this project which will certainly remain a family keepsake, she gave an infectious smile and replied, “It makes my parish friends happy and it is part of our history and our city’s history.” And, she quickly added, “Thank God for coffee.”
Sharon Semanie is a journalist and longtime Piqua resident. She can be reached at [email protected]