For you church-going folks, the chances are good that Robert Frei had a hand in the windows and artwork of your sanctuary. If you served on a parish council, you might have met him.
Driving through the heart of Webster Groves, you can see two of his windows at the First Congregational Church of Webster Groves, on the corner of Lockwood and Elm. If you have the time, park your car and step inside to see the brilliant colors. The windows are indicative of Frei’s later work, thoughtful and elegant.
Frei was born into a family of talented artists. He earned a degree in art and worked for a brief time as a professional photographer, specializing in architectural photos. Eventually, he led the family business, Emil Frei Stained Glass, for almost 30 years.
During his lifetime, Frei designed countless windows for hundreds of communities across the country. In the St. Louis region, his work can be seen at places such as the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, Resurrection Catholic Church, Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery Chapel, and the St. Louis Priory, among others.
Frei also made a critical contribution to the craft of stained glass; he helped to engineer an epoxy resin matrix for faceted stained glass that is still used industry-wide.
Frei’s accomplishments were met only by his yearning for adventure, his sense of humor, and his love for family. He spent vacations traveling the nation’s parks in a camper with his wife, Fran, and their four boys. Even as he aged, Frei was always quick with a joke. He referred to his youngest son, David, as “spare parts.” You know, in case he ever needed a kidney. In the latter years, when the boys had their own families to tend, Frei and his wife would travel to Florida with their Sunfish sail boat in tow.
To those who knew him, Frei was much more than an accomplished artist: he was husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, neighbor and friend.
Frei passed away four years ago this Sunday. Today, he is remembered fondly and remains legendary for his ability to charm his way out of a traffic ticket.