Catholic Free Press

Catholic Free Press Digital Edition

  • Jul
  • 6

Windows and wells keep Michael Martino creative

Posted By July 6, 2017 | 6:00 am | Lead Story #2
martino bill _0535

William T. Clew | The Catholic Free Press

UXBRIDGE –  What do stained glass windows, made in Massachusetts and installed in a handful of small churches in Italy, have in common with some deep wells pumping clean water for villages in Kenya?
The answer – Michael Martino.
Mr. Martino owns Martino Stained Glass Studios, a company that creates, repairs and installs stained glass windows.
He also is the founder of an organization called Wells for Kenya Project, a not-for-profit charity, to raise funds to get those wells drilled.
But long before that, he started the journey that led to those church windows in Italy.
The story of how that happened starts with Mr. Martino’s graduation from high school in Framingham during the Vietnam War. He said that while he was waiting to his draft lottery number to come up and to be called into the armed forces, he decided to go to Italy. He visited Milan. He said he had a high draft number and it never did come up, so he stayed in Milan and got a job in a stained glass studio.
He said the owner, Alessandro  Grassi, didn’t want him to do glass work because of Italian labor laws. But during afternoons when the owner was out of the studio selling the product, the workers showed him how to cut glass and began teaching him the craft.
They also taught him how to speak Italian. The owner eventually found out what he was doing, inspected his work, apparently liked it and gave him his own workbench.
And what about those labor laws?
“It’s Italy,” Mr. Martino explained.
He stayed in Italy, learning the craft. The pay was small, he said, but he was able to live rent-free in a church basement storage room. In 1974 he was badly injured in a automobile accident and returned home to Framingham.
After he recovered from his injuries, he said, he looked for a job to earn enough money to get back to Italy. He had some experience as a short-order cook. He was hired at Ken’s Steak House in Framingham. At Ken’s they learned of his work with stained glass and asked whether he could do some work at the restaurant.
He said he put in four windows in the Lamp Room and didn’t charge much. The windows still are there.
“They said it was cheaper than curtains,” he said.

Window in church in village of Busana, Italy.

Window in church in village of Busana, Italy.

In 1978, he met Anna, who was working at Ken’s as a waitress, and married her. Anna was born in Italy, near Venice, and had come to the United States with her family when she was 3 years old.
Mr. Martino continued to work at Ken’s, and he also continued to work with glass. He said he went around to churches in the area to ask whether they needed any repair work done on windows.
In 1984, he and his wife visited the Province of Reggio Emilia in Italy. The province is in the north-central part of Italy in the Apennines, a mountain chain that runs from the Italian Alps almost the length of the country.
He began what turned into a church window project in 1993. That year he made three windows for a church in Nizzmosa, and later made two more. Then he made eight windows for a church in nearby Busana.

The church in village of Busana, Italy.

The church in village of Busana, Italy.

Mr. Martino said he has many cousins in Italy and even in Australia. Some of them, when they heard that he was making windows for those village churches, suggested other churches that had family connections. So there are several small churches in little villages in the mountains with windows with the “Martino Stained Glass Studios” stamp. Not every window carries that identification, but it is on at least one window in every church with his windows, he said.
In 1998, he did six windows for a church in Ramiseto, home of his mother and grandmother before they came to the United States. A story in the local paper took note of that with a story about the windows under a headline that translated: “A gift from an American grandson,” with a sub-headline that translated “Apennines artist has not forgotten his roots.” 
In 2004, he made three windows for a church in Camporella.
His most recent endeavor, in March, are five windows in Miscoso – four side windows plus a rose window over the church entrance. He said he made the four small side windows and shipped them a couple of years ago. The rose window he brought to Miscoso in March and installed it himself, with some help. He said he and a villager tried to find a ladder in the little town so he could climb to the window, but with no luck. So he climbed up on the shoulders of his helper to reach the windowsill and install the window.
Mr. Martino has made and installed windows in churches and other buildings throughout Massachusetts and in other states. He and Nikolai Burinski, an artist, work in a couple of studios. One is in Framingham. The other is in a building behind his home at 64 Spinning Wheel Dr.
He said they made the windows for the churches in Italy when there were lulls in the local business.
Mr. Martino and his wife have four children and 14 grandchildren. Their two oldest grandsons accompanied him on the trip to Miscoso and, after the windows were installed, toured Italy.
As for those wells in Kenya, that project had its beginning when, in 1995, he met Gerry Kibarabara, Ph.D., of Kenya, at a dinner party in Massachusetts. Kibababara is the Archbishop of Gospel Assemblies of Kenya.
Archbishop Kibarabara told that dinner party gathering about the problems in some Kenyan villages hit by drought. Without a clean and reliable water supply, he said, people cannot irrigate their crops, feed and water their cattle or maintain their own health.
Mr. Martino decided to do something about it. In 2006, with the help of family, friends and donors, he founded the Wells for Kenya Project. He, his wife Anna and their children operate the organization and there is a board of directors to oversee the finances and the work, he said.
Over a period of several years he has raised money, received donated equipment, bought other equipment and overcame government red tape in Kenya with the vital help of Archbishop Kabarabara.
The results? Those three wells and some elevated tanks that act as reservoirs allow villagers to have access to the clean water without having to run the well pumps continually
And there are plans and money for another installation. Mr. Martino said that the Wells for Kenya Project has received a $15,000 from a donor who wants to remain anonymous. That money will cover the cost of drilling a well in Aloi’s Bridge, a village in west Kenya.