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Stained glass windows at Iowa church restored

December 22, 2018

WEBSTER CITY, Iowa (AP) — It’s almost as if whoever originally designed the stained glass window in the East Chapel at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Webster City knew what sort of light would shine through it in the morning.

The artist included a sunrise in the middle.

Now freshly restored, the bright warm morning light does make it glow with a fiery radiance.

The East Chapel is the Rev. Craig Blaufuss’ favorite room.

“The colors really come through,” he told The Messenger . “They do glow. Mornings in the East Chapel, they’re afire.”

Later in the day, when the sun strikes the west windows, they, too, glow with the radiance of fresh restoration.

In all, 38 windows in the church were removed by Cathedral Crafts Inc., of Winona, Minnesota, in June and taken back to its shop. Crews took them apart, cleaned the glass and then painstakingly reassembled them with new leading. Etchings from the original windows were used as a pattern to get them just right.

The windows were returned and installed in October.

The windows date to the construction of the building. Blaufuss said it was built in 1890 and dedicated in 1891.

“When these were put in, the cost was a whopping $17,000. That was for the entire building. There’s no record of the cost of the original windows or who might have designed and made them,” he said. “The windows are dedicated, so we can assume they were funded by relatives of those named in the windows or, in some cases, by Sunday school classes in honor of teachers.”

The windows were quite a bit past their life expectancy before the restoration. He said 70 to 80 years is their normal life span before the leading begins to fail.

“They start buckling under their own weight,” Blaufuss said. “If you looked, the windows had waves. The leading was starting to fail.”

Previous attempts at repairs were part of the failure.

“We have had at least two different occasions where we had contractors come in and solder on support rods,” he said.

The restoration did away with those stop-gap measures.

“All those extra rods were removed. They were returned with the original support system as built. There’s a lot less obstruction. You can really tell the difference,” he said.

The amount of light transmission increased quite a bit.

“That was another benefit,” Blaufuss said. “How much brighter they are. We’re assuming that this is the first time they’ve been cleaned.”

The current building is the third one for the congregation.

“The first building was little more than a log cabin. We organized in 1855 by seven people,” he said.

The log cabin was replaced a few years later.

“The second building was wood-framed and put up in 1869,” Blaufuss said.

Money was tight in those days.

“For a while, they rented pews. That was not an uncommon practice,” he said.

The present brick building from 1890-91 has been added to a few times as the congregation needed more space.

Blaufuss said that his congregation’s reaction to the newly-restored windows can be summed up in a few words.

“Surprise, delight and pride. They realize that it was an investment in the legacy we’ve received from our spiritual ancestors. It was the right investment to make,” he said.

The project actually came in under budget, he said. The contractor was able to remove the windows from the inside, which left the outer storm windows up and intact.

“Those are plate glass with enough silicone to fix a battleship,” Blaufuss said.

This method also allowed the stained glass windows to remain in their wooden frames when they were removed, another aid in getting the work done without damage.

Blaufuss is also proud that the cost of the project, $88,280, has been paid in full.

“We have retired the cost of the windows. The entire cost of the windows’ restoration has been met by congregational members’ donations, plus a $2,500 grant from the Teresa Treat Stearns Charitable Trust,” he said.

For visitors to the church, one feature of the windows that stands out is the large number of glass orbs and cone-shaped pieces built into the vision.

Blaufuss said that the restoration crews noted that it’s unusual to find these in a window in such numbers and that they add greatly to the appeal of the windows.

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Information from: The Messenger, http://www.messengernews.net

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