- Associated Press - Monday, May 29, 2017

JASPER, Ind. (AP) - For 120 years, the stained glass windows in St. Joseph Catholic Church have overlooked the worship in the historic church. Sections of stained glass in the church’s southwest corner descended from their perch last week for the first time since their installation.

Pat Gehlhausen, head of property maintenance at the church, helped Kevin Slager and Brian Hummer of Conrad Schmitt Studios in New Berlin, Wisconsin gingerly move the 125-pound, 10-foot-by-three-foot rectangle of lead and glass off the scaffolding and out the church doors to the Conrad Schmitt truck. When the men turned the pane on its side to go through the doors, a cloud of dust floated to the church floor.

The panes’ removal kicked off the stained glass restoration project the church is undertaking to restore the lead frames and glass that make up the windows. The project is estimated between $500,000 and $900,000, but Conrad Schmitt will have a better estimate after the artisans examine the three panes removed. Father William Traylor, associate pastor at St. Joseph, thinks it’s an important investment.

“(The windows) are part of the historical fabric of the building,” he said.

Funding for the project will come from the Stewards of God’s Grace Capital Campaign orchestrated in cooperation with the Diocese of Evansville.

Slager, the project leader, chose the southwest window to start the project because it’s a good example of the work other windows will need. The window is visibly bowed toward the bottom, which weakens the glass and puts it at risk of breaking. The hand-painted detail work that used to adorn the stained glass has faded to the point of only being visible when a light shines through the panes, as well.

“The big challenge is all the paint failure and making sure we’re careful about what we do to bring it back to life,” Slager said.

The artists at Conrad Schmitt will repaint all the detail work to make the windows look as they did when they arrived in Jasper over a century ago. The materials and process they use today is the same process artisans used on the original windows. It’s also the same process that has been used in Europe for about 500 years, Slager said.

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, Slager said. The water catches the dust, which contains lead particles, to keep the artisans safe.

From there, broken pieces are epoxied back together or replaced. The original windows were built by Artistic Glass Painting Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio, and cost $6,000 total.

Slager said the windows were likely constructed using opalescent glass from Kokomo Opalescent Glass in Kokomo. The glass company is still in business today and supplies glass to Conrad Schmitt.

Lastly, artists at Conrad Schmitt will paint the original designs back onto the glass by hand, and the glass will be baked. Sometimes, Slager said, the old glass will crack or break during the baking. Those pieces will then either be epoxied or replaced. Any broken pieces that can’t be epoxied will be returned to the church along with the restored windows.

“(The windows) should look all together different when they come back,” Gehlhausen said.

The panes removed so far will be out for about two months, depending on how much work needs to be done. When the panes are brought back, Conrad Schmitt will remove and transport all of the remaining windows, estimated to be between 75 and 100 panes. Those windows will be out for four to six months. The storm windows that protect the stained glass on the outside will remain in place.

St. Joseph was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1980, and restoring the stained glass windows is a big part of retaining the historical feel of the church.

“We want it to look as close to original as it can,” Gehlhausen said. “We want it to look old, but also like it would have in 1898.”

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Source: The (Jasper) Herald, https://bit.ly/2rDGlvJ

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Information from: The Herald, https://www.dcherald.com


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