- Associated Press - Saturday, April 15, 2017

VINCENNES, Ind. (AP) - With his arm outstretched, stained glass artist and restorer Jules Mominee pointed to a portion of rich red fabric draped around Jesus’ shoulders, set aglow by the afternoon sunshine streaming in through the towering windows at the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier in Vincennes.

“The piece that’s a ‘v’ shape, that’s a replica. That’s one of ours,” said Mominee of Evansville-based Mominee Studios. “That’s the biggest thing, the ability to replicate the painted details. If I’ve done my job right, you don’t notice that we’ve done it.”

Mominee and his five-person crew began working in spring 2014 on a top-to-bottom restoration of the intricate, circa-1908 stained glass windows at the church, which now gleam more brilliantly than ever with deep blues, vibrant greens and luminous yellows when struck by the sun’s rays.

And that project was no easy task.

Mominee and his crew started, as they always do, with a condition survey of the glass in the church commonly known as Old Cathedral, 205 Church St.

Next, they removed the windows, repaired the wood frames, and took the glass to their shop where it was placed into tanks to soak to free up the putty holding everything together, so that individual pieces could be safely removed.

Once all the scenes were deconstructed, the individual lead pieces between the glass panes were replaced. One of the big issues with old stained glass, Mominee explained, is that the lead corrodes and weakens to a point where it can’t support the windows, so they eventually start buckling, bulging and breaking.

Broken pieces were poorly reconstructed over the years, Mominee said, so most of them also had to be meticulously redone.

“Part of historic preservation is you want to keep all the original fabric,” he said.

That’s where his wife, Terry, came in. She was able to recreate details in the artwork by grinding glass into fine powder, mixing it with water, and painting details back onto the panes. After the water evaporated, the panes were placed into a kiln to melt the powdered glass onto the base piece.

“That’s why the detail will stay permanently,” Mominee said. “It’s actually ground glass, so you can’t just wipe it off.”

After all that work over the course of nine months, the windows were reassembled and reinstalled.

“It’s very labor-intensive,” Mominee said. “In a world where most things are mass-produced, we still produce things by hand like they were in the 12th century.”

Father Dave Fleck with the now-consolidated Vincennes Catholic Parish said the windows were made a key part of the restoration project because of their beauty and what they represent.

“They’re great artwork, and they were the donations of people years and years ago,” he said. “People put a lot of work and money into these places of worship as a sign of praise to God.

“I think we have a responsibility to maintain and preserve that.”

While a renovation project was made possible at the Old Cathedral, not every church with historic stained glass windows is so lucky. After all, preserving stained glass, especially when there are several large pieces, can be a pricey project.

Most churches, like Trinity United Methodist in Mount Carmel, Illinois, do have plexiglass coverings over the stained glass panes to prevent damage from the outside

“The plexiglass was added in the early 1980s to protect the pieces from weathering,” said Kathy Brand, Trinity United Methodist historian.

But cleaning the stained glass is a separate issue entirely and not every church can afford to do it as frequently as needed to keep it pristine.

Trinity’s glass is breathtakingly beautiful, but some panes have visible dirt that has crept in between the plexiglass over the years. Brand said the more than 10 massive pieces installed in the late 1940s have not been cleaned since the plexiglass was put on.

Rev. Jim Summers at First Christian Church, also in Mount Carmel, laments about the expensive cleaning process, too. FCC has plexiglass covering its stained glass as well, and Summers said it has to be professionally cleaned every five years.

Those who have spent any time viewing the stained glass in the area would likely agree that the expense is worth it to keep these pieces safe.

Sisters Donna and Sherry Hazelwood of Oakland City, located in Gibson County, can certainly see that many old church buildings, like the Presbyterian church on the corner of Grove and Washington streets there, are diamonds in the rough.

Even though much of the church’s secondary rooms had drop ceilings, non-weight-supporting walls, and wall covers over the stained glass, Donna Hazelwood knew the building had potential.

“Much of the original woodwork was still in place and with a lot of hard work, the interior could be restored to its former glory,” she said. “For me, it was an exciting, large art project.”

The sister duo has been working together on the building for more than 10 years. Sherry has lived in it most of the time and Donna moved in later, she said, when they finished restoring what would be her living space.

Renovations are ongoing in the sanctuary, bell tower and basement and on the building’s exterior.

Just like Fleck here in Vincennes and Mominee in Evansville, the Hazelwood sisters recognize that historic church buildings deserve to be saved and maintained for generations to come.

“There is much beauty in old structures that were built with good materials and craftsmanship,” Donna Hazelwood said. “Architecture is an art form. When buildings are built with a specific purpose at a specific time, they retain that history.

“This building once served social, cultural and religious purposes. The future holds many possibilities.”


Source: Vincennes Sun-Commercial, https://bit.ly/2p2HTht


Information from: Vincennes Sun-Commercial, https://www.vincennes.com

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