Milford stained glass artist creates window for Sandy Hook

When Paul Petrushonis learned about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012, he was emotionally shattered like everyone else.

“I was devastated and knew I had to do something for Sandy Hook,” said Petrushonis, who immediately placed 26 decorative snowflakes on the outside of his Milford stained glass studio during the holiday season to remember those who had perished.

He then put 26 small American flags in the ground in front of the Post Road studio, later transferring the flags to a new location when his shop moved, where they remain today.

It was almost four years later when Petrushonis was presented with an opportunity to do something especially meaningful for Sandy Hook. He was asked to create a stained glass window for the new elementary school constructed to replace the old building.

The completed piece, featuring the sun, sky, water, a blooming dogwood tree and a field with flowers, was recently installed at the school.

“I was honored to do it,” said Petrushonis, a lifelong Milford resident who has been making and repairing stained glass items for 45 years.

He’d been recommended to do the window by a grandmother of one of the first-graders lost in the tragedy.

The process began in the fall of 2016 when Petrushonis met in Newtown with some of the families of those impacted by the tragedy. “It was heartbreaking to meet with them,” he said.

He later toured the new school with administrators to determine where to put the stained glass window. It was decided the best place was in the front foyer, and the size would be about seven-feet high by two-and-a-half feet wide.

The tour took place on the day of the new school’s Halloween celebration, with children wearing costumes as they moved about the school. “I was in tears,” Petrushonis said of the experience.

Finalizing the design was a long process, with the families trying to agree on exactly what should be depicted. Petrushonis made some suggestions, and one family member turned to an artist friend to draw up some possibilities.

“I wanted to do what they wanted, not what I wanted,” he said.

Eventually a formal vote was held to decide among four designs, which also included a tree of life and a sun with 26 rays. The final design is based on a sketch by the artist, James Jeffrey, of Sandy Hook, whose two younger children also attended SHS.

It took Petrushonis almost a year to construct the window due to the size, intricate design and the thousands of stained glass pieces needed. “It’s the most complicated piece I’ve ever done,” he said.

Petrushonis used two glass layers for parts of the blue sky and drapery glass, a unique curved glass, for the white dogwood flowers. “Only premium glass went into this project,” he said.

“It had to be just right,” Petrushonis explained. “I’m very pleased with how it came out.”

Newtown School Superintendent Lorrie Rodrigue praised Petrushonis’ craftsmanship. “He really did a phenomenal job,” she said. “The window has received compliments from our staff and visitors.”

Rodrigue described it as “a beautiful piece of artwork. When you walk into the school, it really resonates with a design that has a peaceful feeling to it without being a stark reminder of what took place.”

Petrushonis thanked June Evans, Jaime Kriksciun and Joanne Paones-Gill for assisting with the Sandy Hook project.
Longtime interest

Petrushonis, 71, has been admiring stained glass since his childhood. He said when he’d go to church, he was more interested in the stained glass windows than the sermons.

Then in his 20s, when picking up supplies for a girlfriend’s art gallery, he saw some loose stained glass pieces and purchased them.

He was soon working on stained glass projects. “I couldn’t stop,” he said. “I started hanging them in my apartment window and people asked me if they could buy them as presents.”

He eventually opened a shop on the Post Road and is now on Clark Street, his third Milford location.

While he continues to make stained glass items, most work now involves restoration for libraries, colleges, government buildings, theaters and private homes in Connecticut and New York. He restored the windows in Milford’s Taylor Library in the 1970s.

“A lot of people can make it, but no one can fix it,” he said of stained glass.

He’s taught stained glass artistry in the Milford adult education program for the past three decades. “Some of my students have been taking it with me for 15 years,” he said.

The hardest part to creating works is accurately cutting the stained glass pieces for the design, he said. “It’s like creating a glass puzzle,” he said.

Petrushonis loves his job. “I can’t wait to come here every day,” he said. “I fix and create things for people. It’s very rewarding.”