Since 1761, stained glass has been a Watkins family tradition. The history begins in England where family members made stained glass windows in London and Liverpool. Eight generations of Watkins men have devoted their lives to stained glass. Four generations of Watkins men have devoted their lives to stained glass and beautifying the Rocky Mountain area since the arrival of Clarence Watkins to in 1868.
Clarence traveled to America via ship with his toolbox in hand and skills he had learned from his forefathers and worked in New York and Boston. In 1868, he left St. Joseph, Missouri in a covered wagon loaded with stained glass, supplies and tools, destined for Denver, Colorado. He soon set up shop and as Denver began to grow, his very traditional old-world style of stained glass became very popular in the mansions, businesses and grand churches of Denver.
His son, Frank, followed Clarence in the art. Frank began his apprenticeship in Denver in 1902. The Denver Directory listed Frank as “Art Glass Wkr.” He rode the stained glass glory days until the depression and during these lean years he would repair stained glass windows at no cost. His son, Phillip Watkins, was also taught the trade and helped his father until stained glass was interrupted during World War II due to the unavailability of lead. Phil Sr. served as a fighter pilot during the war and while in England, befriended the Liverpool Records Clerk and learned more about the Watkins family stained glass ancestry going back to the 1600’s. After the war he worked for thirty-five years during Denver’s growth boom with his son, Phil, Jr. at his side.
Phil Jr. is the latest member to carry on the Watkins Stained Glass tradition. He has been in the studio since he was old enough to walk and made his first set of church windows unaided at age 12. He completed an official five-year stained glass apprenticeship, learning every aspect of the trade from the very basic skills to the most intricate painting and has been accepted into the British Master Glass Painter’s Guild. Phil is one of the few artists in the country who can do every aspect of stained glass and during the past 50 years has fabricated many thousands of new stained glass windows. As a specialist in stained glass restoration, Phil was offered a position in England, to work in English Cathedrals for the rest of his life, but declined, preferring to continue the Colorado family legacy. Phil will be spending the summer working on the stained glass window restorations in the Senate Chambers of the State Capitol.
The methods of making stained glass windows have been passed down through the family for at least eight consecutive generations. Each stained glass artist learned the techniques from his elder relative and the “family secrets” of the medieval stained glass craft are thus preserved. All of the work is still done by hand and neither the principles nor the tools, except for electricity, have changed. There are differences in the artistic visions of each man as they respond to the trends of the time but the highly skilled master craftsmanship has continued. The time-tested old tradition of stained glass remains the same, although businesses and technology have changed the world around us. The studio still operates on the principles of Cowboy Ethics: The Code of the West. The world-renowned Watkins family uses no compromises or short cuts and to this day, their traditional values and the expert master craftsmanship of the “old masters” remains.
Ssome of Phil’s restoration projects have included Trinity Methodist, St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral, St. Paul Methodist, Annunciation Catholic, 430 Years Church of God, St. Andrew’s Episcopal, Brown Palace Hotel, Pearce-McAllister Museum of Miniatures, St. Francis Medical Center and Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal of Colorado Springs, St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church of Castle Rock, Canon City and Montrose Methodist Churches. Last year he worked on the Glass Globe atop the Colorado State Capitol Dome and restored 2 windows in the Capitol Senate Chambers. Most recently he restored and remade the stained glass damaged in the fire at the Church of the Ascension at 6th and Gilpin in Denver.