Painstaking restoration of $3 million stained glass window nears completion
The window depicts life-size soldiers from various wars and an angel welcoming them home.
The piece originally was commissioned by the Veterans Memorial Commission of Cedar Rapids, which is where Wood grew up. It is the only known piece of stained glass created by the artist who is most famous for his painting American Gothic.
Glass Heritage, 234 W. 3rd St., Davenport, was awarded a bid of about $150,000 last year to repair and restore all 58 panels of glass within it. The panels were thought to contain between 7,000 and 8,000 pieces of glass, which were thought to have sustained about 100 cracks.
“It’s just shy of 9,000 pieces, actually,” Glass Heritage co-owner John Watts said. “Every single piece comes out and goes back in, one piece at a time. And we found, easily, 150 cracks.”
Jimi Lee, the shop manager at the downtown business, said the trick to making all those repairs is being extremely careful.
“You have to understand that every piece is irreplaceable,” he said. “A very talented artist could try to replace it, but it wouldn’t work. You’re never going to match it. Doing it right is the most important thing.”
The process began for Glass Heritage last summer when workers spent 10 days removing the window from its longtime perch. Watts said one to three people are working on it at any given time, and he has promised the Veterans Memorial Commission it will be back in place by the third week in June.
Meanwhile, Wood’s artistic style is revealing itself to the people who are lovingly restoring his work.
“When Wood was in the military, he was a camouflage artist, designing uniforms and covers for tanks and things,” Watts said. “His work was very organic, and we’ve noticed stamped oak leaves in some of the pieces.
“Every single piece is painted with some kind of design in it.”
Design artist and painter Erika Rogers said she isn’t sure how Wood managed some of the design and detail work.
“Maybe he used a sponge and then a brush here,” she said, pointing out variations in the designs of the glass. “He painted in some of the shading. Some of the glass is thick, and some is paper-thin.
“That’s because it’s manmade – mouth-blown – and not made by a machine.”
As Glass Heritage workers take apart and replace each piece of glass, they do so under a meticulous cataloging process. Each panel gets three rubbings, which is a pencil-on-paper capture of the exact layout of each piece.
One rubbing will go back to the Veterans Memorial Commission as a historical record. Another is stored with the piece it reflects, and a third is used as the framework for each panel as it is cleaned, repaired and put back together.
Each panel is disassembled in a water tank, which protects the workers from the layers of lead that hold the glass pieces in place.
“I’m just back from seeing the Veterans Memorial Commission,” Watts said recently. “I took them a piece that hasn’t been touched and a completely restored piece. They seemed very happy.
“It’s running $20,000 a year to insure it for the $3 million value, and that policy expires in July, so we’re going to have it done by then. It will be in place for Cedar Rapids’ July Fourth celebration.
“We’ll probably be on-site for close to a month, because we’re installing interior and exterior protective glazes. We’re feeling pretty protective of it.”
Information from: Quad-City Times, http://www.qctimes.com
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