JASPER, Ind. — Detail work on a stained glass window in St. Joseph Catholic Church is now visible for the first time in decades.
Rectangles bordering the image of a saint that were a solid light brown color a year ago now contain bunches of grapes, just as they did when German settlers installed the window 120 years ago.
Conrad Schmitt Studios in New Berlin, Wisconsin, removed one panel of stained glass in May 2017 and painstakingly restored the details on the window as a sample of the work that will be done on all 20 of St. Joseph’s stained glass windows over the next two years.
The project will be done in four to six phases, with the next phase likely starting in a couple months.
Windows with the same color schemes will be grouped together with about four windows removed at one time for refurbishing at Conrad Schmitt’s Wisconsin studio where artisans use the same materials and processes that were used to create the windows over a century ago.
The windows were installed by German settlers, led by Father Joseph Kundek, in 1898 and haven’t been removed since. In the 120 years since their installation, however, some of the glass in the panes has cracked and bowed in places, weakening the windows.
“The saints’ figures are in tact and good,” said Father Raymond Brenner, lead pastor at St. Joseph. “It’s the borders.”
Project foreman Kevin Slager with Conrad Schmitt said the biggest challenge with the window was the paint failure, which refers to areas where the original designs have faded.
In the restoration process, artisans at Conrad Schmitt use light to see the remnants of the designs. Then, they search out the same hues and repaint the designs by hand. When the painting is finished, the window is fired to set the paint.
Sometimes, the glass breaks in firing, Slager said. In those cases, the artisans try to epoxy the glass back together, but if that can’t be done, they have to track down the opalescent glass used in construction to replace the broken bits.
Fortunately, the company that likely made the original glass, Kokomo Opalescent Glass in Kokomo is still in business.
“This was a big challenge just because of the paint failure,” Slager said.
The other major part of the restoration is cleaning the windows, a process that isn’t as simple as it sounds.
Before any work can be done on the windows, cleaning included, they must be disassembled. Since the framing contains lead, extra care must be taken to keep the artisans safe.
The process begins with photographing and carbon paper rubbing the window so the pieces can be put back together exactly as they were. After the photographs and carbon rubbing are done, deconstruction takes place in a shallow pool of water, which catches the dust and lead particles. From there, broken pieces are epoxied back together or replaced.
When the windows were first installed 120 years ago, Brenner said, they cost about $8,000 total. Now, it will cost nearly $800,000 to refurbish all of them. The funds are coming from the Stewards of God’s Grace Capital Campaign the parish orchestrated in cooperation with the Catholic Diocese of Evansville.
As Conrad Schmitt employees reinstalled the window, plumbers worked in the crawl space beneath the church repairing pipes that had begun to leak. The plumbing repair is just one of several maintenance projects underway or in the works at St. Joseph.
There’s a never-ending list of work that needs to be done to the historic church, Brenner said. Since the windows are the most visible of the projects, that’s where the church started. Church leaders wanted to give donors something they could see up front.
“People here take great pride in their churches,” Brenner said. “It was a necessary project in that way.”
Source: Dubois County Herald
Information from: The Herald, http://www.dcherald.com
This is an Indiana Exchange story shared by the Dubois County Herald.