Cathedral’s rose windows under restoration

| July 23, 2015 | 0 Comments

A piece-by-piece restoration of the Cathedral of St. Paul’s south-facing rose window is underway at Gaytee-Palmer Stained Glass Studio in northeast Minneapolis — the first time comprehensive work has been done on any of the church’s three iconic circular windows.

Craftsman Joey Leto of Gaytee-Palmer Stained Glass in Minneapolis rebuilds a window from the Cathedral of St. Paul that was removed for repair. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Craftsman Joey Leto of Gaytee-Palmer Stained Glass in Minneapolis rebuilds a window from the Cathedral of St. Paul that was removed for repair. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Erosion from weather and pollution, as well as weighty braces added five decades ago, has caused the glass in all three windows to separate from their connective leading, said Al Palmer, who owns Gaytee-Palmer.

When the Cathedral called upon Gaytee-Palmer to repair three bullet-size holes in the north rose window in 2015, the craftsmen discovered that the windows were structurally unsound.

“When you just touched them, they shook,” said Palmer, 63, who encouraged Cathedral leadership to commission their restoration. “The only thing that was keeping them from falling out was that storm window.”

In early July, Gaytee-Palmer employees removed the 18-foot-diameter, south-facing window section by section. At the studio, the glass pieces are in various stages of what Palmer estimates to be an eight-week project. In that time, the pieces are cleaned, scraped of old leading, repainted as necessary, releaded and cemented — an onerous, time-consuming process because each piece is done by hand.

Restoration of the Cathedral’s north rose window is slated to begin after the south rose window is reinstalled in early September. Palmer said his company also expects to restore the east rose window at a later date.

The Cathedral Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit separate from the Cathedral parish, is fundraising the $209,000 cost for the north and south window restoration. The project will be featured at the organization’s fifth annual Cathedral Festival of Lights Sept. 25 at the InterContinental Hotel in downtown St. Paul.

“We look to the parish to identify its priorities,” said Mary Schaffner, Cathedral Heritage Foundation board chairwoman. “There is no more prominent feature other than its dome than its rose windows.”

Father John Ubel, the Cathedral’s rector, identified the window restoration as a need last year, she said.

“It is directly in our mission to help preserve the unique artistic and architectural features of the cathedral,” Schaffner said. “There was an extreme need to make this the next project. When it’s done, it will be beautiful.”

“They’re special windows; they’re gorgeous windows,” Palmer affirmed. “They’re in the Cathedral — that alone makes them special. They didn’t chintz when they built these windows. They built really beautiful windows, and I’m sure they [the craftsmen] knew they were going to be in the Cathedral, so they put a lot of extra effort in the designing and painting of them.”

Famous designer

At his studio, most of the south window’s 90 pieces are stacked on supports awaiting work, but some sections are finished. The glass is in good shape, Palmer said, with few broken pieces. The studio’s team of 10 is also restoring an arched skylight for the state capitol building, a project that required it to build special supports.

The 97-year-old company follows nearly the same process it did when it was founded by Thomas Gaytee, an artist who had worked for Louis Comfort Tiffany in New York.

The Cathedral’s three rose windows were designed in the 1930s and 1940s by Charles Connick, a prolific and revered Boston-based stained-glass artist who worked to revive medieval design and craftsmanship.

The south rose window features  medallions with depictions of saints exemplifying the Eight Beatitudes. Across the nave, the north rose window’s medallions feature the eight American Jesuit martyrs. The east-facing window was the first to be installed and features a cross.

Connick designed several smaller windows for the Cathedral, as well as windows for several other churches in the Twin Cities, including St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis and House of Hope Presbyterian Church in St. Paul.

“[Connick] used a traditional style,” said Palmer, who bought Gaytee five years ago and merged it with his own company. “You can tell a Connick window right away because you’ll find glass is much thicker than normal glass.”

The varying degrees of glass thickness make his windows more challenging to repair.

“Charles Connick’s windows are the most miserable to relead because he wouldn’t throw any glass away,” Palmer said. One of his employees, he said, requested a break from working on Connick windows because the work is so time consuming.

When Gaytee-Palmer’s craftsmen relead the windows, they’ll use an alloy that should last 120 years, longer than the 85-90 years expected from the original, pure lead caming, Palmer said.

“Churches don’t want to lose their windows. That’s a big thing in a church,” Palmer said. “They’re willing to take care of them.”

The company does both window restoration and new window design, and since October has been working on a new set of 65 windows for St. Charles Borromeo in St. Anthony.


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