Spirit of Glass; Window installation continues at St. Augustine

It is clear that restoration of stained glass windows springs from a passion for its art — at least that is the case with Caleb Penic.

Penic is the grandson of LaVern Campbell, founder of Cathedral Crafts in Winona, who carries on the tradition of restoration. The company is working on the stained glass windows at St. Augustine Catholic Church, part of an estimated $1.2 million renovation of its sanctuary.

Penic is only 24 years old, but already his voice rings with pride of being the third generation to work in the ancient art.

“They are intricate and better quality than most.” – Jason Petersen, Cathedral Crafts, Winona

Aloft on a scaffolding Wednesday was Jason Petersen, “who is definitely our number one guy,” Penic said, as he watched Petersen install a panel, high in the south chancel area of the 1896 church.

The windows are being done in phases. After these, the rose windows that flank the top of the central aisle of the church will be done.

For more on St. Augustine’s upcoming renovations pick up our annual Progress special section, out now!

The work is done with a combination of fascination and hard work. Petersen said the St. Augustine windows, fashioned in the Munich style, are more elegant than most.

“They are intricate and better quality,” he added.

It is a time when the panels — some 25 pounds or better in one section of the panel — can be viewed up close, inspected, re-leaded, and cleaned, said Penic.

It is also a time to admire the craftsmanship of artists whose names will never be known, he said, referring to the painted portions of the windows. Penic and Petersen, used to surveying the different portraiture in windows, can easily pick out different artists’ hands.

“For instance, that Jesus,” said Penic pointing up to one window on the south wall, “does not really look at all like that Jesus, “he added, pointing to the opposite set of windows.

“If you were to enter the studio when these windows were being created, you would see a number of different artists” working on the panels, Penic added.

Some panels “practically fall into your hands” when they are being removed for work, Penic said. It is not unusual for windows of the same age as those at St. Augustine “that have never been touched,” he said. Fortunately, care has been taken to keep the windows at St. Augustine maintained.

Jason Petersen of Catherdral Crafts from Winona goes through the finishing work on windows above the altar area at St. Augustine Catholic Church Thursday morning.

And, most church windows of any age need care, he added. It is not unusual to see some glass insets that have stress fractures, or leading that has broken down. Protective coverings need to be replaced. The wood that holds the windows often buckles and cracks, too.

The work requires strong muscles and light touches. Removing and installing a window is no small feat, especially when you consider that on some panels, you may find not one piece of glass, but two or several pieces behind the front piece. Using more than one color, or using different treatments, creates different hues and effects. The art of opalescence is a thoroughly American contribution to the stained glass art form, Penic said. The milky colored glass, pioneered by the likes of Louis C. Tiffany, provides an opaque look to the glass.

The figure of a stained glass window seems to watch as Petersen applies sealant Thursday morning.

Unfortunately, he noted, the restoration and creation of stained glass “is a dying art” with several studios planning to close, he said.

However, his family’s vocation seems to be rock solid. Cathedral Crafts works primarily in the Midwest and the east coast, he said, and there are no signs of work slowing.

The restoration of St. Augustine will also include the refinishing of altars, painting of walls, restoration of paintings, new flooring and new pews.

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