A history lesson from Marty Wendler. Each week, as you kneel to pray, are you aware that the familiar cushions upon which your knees are resting are not ordinary kneelers but exquisite examples of  decorative art and a piece of  St. Paul’s history?

 As St Paul’s Episcopal Church prepared for its 125th Anniversary in 1961, members of the Helen Kreps Guild (Women of St. Pauls) proposed and initiated a unique tribute of their own.  They determined to not only replace the worn kneelers but to personally needlepoint 200 cushions as their anniversary gift to the church. Needlepointing had evolved from a functional craft to an art form in the Middle Ages and by the 15th century was used to decorate ecclesiastic garments and artifacts, particularly in England. The craft was in the midst of a renaissance during the 1950s and 60s and seemed an appropriate choice for an anniversary tribute. The member’s decision, however, presented a challenge, as few had the time, talent, or experience to undertake such a project. Fortunately, they had the guidance and leadership of two talented co-chairwomen, Lydia Spitzer  Rheinfrank, an award-winning artist, and Fern Bellinger Williams, a master needle pointer, both long-time members of St. Paul’s Church. Mrs. Rheinfrank had spent a year in Paris studying art before continuing her training at Vasser College. After graduation, she broadened her skills by studying wood etching, engraving, and jewelry design in Florence, Italy,(coincidentally, the “birthplace” of the fine art of needlepointing). Upon returning to Toledo, she briefly resumed her studies at the Toledo Museum of Art before moving to New York City where she had the opportunity to study oil painting with several noted contemporary artists. After her marriage to Lamson Rheinfrank in 1935, she settled in Toledo where she continued to perfect her art, receiving numerous awards throughout the years, including several Toledo Artists Shows, the Regional Junior League Regional Artist Show in Cincinnati, and the Grand Prize for “most meritorious work” from the Toledo Arts Exhibition. Meanwhile, she specialized in portrait painting, particularly of children, and graciously shared her talents with St. Paul’s, including the lovely Memorial Book in the church foyer.                                                                                                                      

Lydia generously accepted the responsibility for creating the 200 needlepoint designs for the kneelers while her equally talented co-chair, Fern Williams, graciously agreed to instruct the volunteer seamstresses in the fine art of needlepoint and transference of the ecclesiastical designs from paper to canvas. Fern, a Master Needlepointer, had become an active member of St. Paul’s after her marriage to parishioner, Paul Williams. Fern and Paul, a great nephew of Daniel Cook, an early vestryman, civic leader, and former Maumee mayor (pp.21-22, Beacon in the Wilderness) resided nearby in the ancestral Cook home on W. Dudley St.  Fern was involved in the various women’s activities, including Helen Kreps Guild, when she accepted her role as instructor for a group of women, many of whom had little or no previous experience with creative stitching.  Not all the “students” were novices, however.  Due to the renewed interest in needlepoint, some members were already proficient “stitchers” and willing to share their expertise with others.  As an added bonus, the stitchers, whether experienced or newly introduced to the art, developed a feeling of camaraderie and the satisfaction of working together toward the common goal of completing their project as planned. Perhaps more important, they left a legacy for future parishioners.  The art of needleworking and a part of the history of St. Paul’s Church is “intertwined in the threads and interwoven in the canvas” of the cushions through the time, talent and determination of a group of women who created a timeless gift in honor of St. Paul’s 125th Anniversary.

                                                                                      Marty W.