Shining her light with paper

— Every once in a while, when the busyness of the world fades away and imagination takes her into a zone of creativity, Allison Grisaffe Bourke finds herself singing a simple, children’s Sunday school song.

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine,” she sings as she draws a silhouette pattern on black construction paper with a white chalk pencil.

Then she cuts the pattern out and covers the holes with colored tissue paper, and 50 or 60 hours later, a beautiful work of art, a tissue paper “stained glass” window, is finished.

“This is my little light — I want to let it shine,” Bourke, 52, said recently as she worked on a piece that is now installed in the front sanctuary window of Magnolia United Methodist Church. “It’s coming from my soul.”

The church’s 6-foot-diameter round, clear glass window is divided into four quarters by a large cross mounted to the front of the sanctuary. The cross is often decorated with colored drapes depending on the time of the Liturgical year.

At the beginning of Lent, Bourke surprised the congregation and its pastor, the Rev. Lewis Morris, by installing a design of white Easter lilies with green stems and leaves surrounded by a purple and blue border into the window.

She recently replaced the Easter window with a Pentecost-theme piece depicting a cross and crown, the white dove of the Holy Spirit, red interlocking rings of the Trinity, and Chalice and bread of the Eucharist. Surrounding the symbols is a black border pierced with dozens of orange and red flames of Pentecost.

When she and her husband, Glenn, installed the first window, with the permission of Morris, they didn’t tell anyone ahead of time.

“We let them walk in and see it for themselves,” Morris said. “You could just see the expressions on their faces and their comments to each other. Everyone was just dumbfounded.

“It just elevated the architectural integrity of the whole sanctuary,” Morris said. “Another pastor came by and saw it and he says, ‘Pretty stained glass,’ and I said, ‘It’s made out of tissue paper,’ and he couldn’t believe it.”

Bourke, a supervisor of five real estate title and escrow closers for 18 states, doesn’t do any other kind of art except for sketching out her designs before she takes scissors and X-Acto-brand craft knives and tape to the construction and tissue paper.

She found inspiration from her twin sister, Alecia Grisaffe, a health care professional living in Atlanta. When they were in grade school, Bourke said, an art teacher had them make a small “stained glass” window out of construction and tissue paper and her sister never forgot about it.

Grisaffe worked in stained glass for awhile, Bourke said, but narrowed her focus to similar works made of paper.

For the past several years, Bourke has traveled to Atlanta to spend time with her sister making Christmas-themed tissue paper works of art given as gifts.

Both women are inspired by their mother, Ellen Grisaffe, 73, who lives in Baton Rouge and attends St. Patrick Catholic Church, Bourke said.

“I’ve been in many, many Catholic churches and have seen some fabulous stained -glass windows,” Bourke said. “My mother brought us up going to plays and museums and art galleries. We were always made aware of colors and textures.”

Bourke did take one art class at Redemptorist High School, class of 1979, she said, and married Glenn, a lifelong Central resident, class of 1976, in 1982. They have two children, Holly, 27, and Austin, 21.

“Glenn and I discussed religion while we were dating, and I knew once we had children, in order to worship as a family, I would join the Methodist church that Glenn grew up in,” she said. The Bourkes have been attending Magnolia United Methodist for 27 years.

Allison Bourke’s most complicated work, a 3-foot by 6-foot peacock design with a long, colorful tail, took about 60 hours. “This is truly labor intensive,” she said. “Each piece is a learning experience.”

When she decided to do the church window, her husband made a cardboard template they can use over and over again. He also climbs the step-ladder to delicately hang the paper artwork into the window frame with tacks.

She plans to make several more faith-themed works that can be displayed and then removed according to the Liturgical calendar.

For a studio, she uses the living-room, with large windows, at the home of Ouida Bourke, Glenn Bourke’s mother, just off Lovett Road in Central.

To begin, Allison Bourke hangs a sheet of school-grade, black construction paper on a wall and using an overhead projector shines a pattern onto it.

She outlines the magnified pattern with a chalk-pencil then lays it out on the floor or a large table to cut out the openings that are eventually covered by colored, gift-wrap, tissue paper.

“Stained glass is gorgeous, but it’s expensive,” Bourke said. “This is paper, so the cost is very inexpensive but very labor intensive.”

She would be interested in making similar windows for other churches. Email her at or call her at (225) 202-5813.

Her art has made her more aware of how light shines at different times of day and how it plays on different surfaces, she said.

“Sometimes I’m just driving down the street and pray, ‘Thank you Lord for sunshine,’” Bourke said.

“To me it is a spiritual thing like that little light of mine that the Lord has blessed me with, a talent that I just want to let it shine. … It’s just something down in my soul that flickers. It’s that little piece of God in me.”