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Stained glass redo to restore Capitol gleam

Post Time:Jul 29,2013Classify:Company NewsView:420


PIERRE, S.D. — After more than a century of shedding light on governors, Legislatures and private citizens who have entered the state Capitol Building, the intricate stained glass that makes for some of the edifice's most impressive views will be receiving some long overdue attention.Work begins Monday on an extensive $2.7 million, 14-month renovation to the skylights above the House and Senate chambers, along with the barrel vault skyline above the grand staircase and the panels in the rotunda dome, the Pierre Capital Journal reported (http://bit.ly/1bV1xie).But the condition of the glass and why it needs to be restored, as outlined in an assessment report from contractors Sharpe Enterprises and Wisconsin-based Conrad Schmitt Studios Inc., gives a peek at the murky history behind the panels', and indeed the Capitol's, construction.The assessment found considerable warping and buckling where the heavy glass is causing the lead framework to contort. In the rotunda, the vertical panels are bowing away from their spaces, and there is even some danger of them falling to the floor below. The panels also do not have frames, but are resting directly on plaster.The report also showed a few ad hoc repair efforts have been tried at least twice in the past, with copper tie-wires and reinforcing bars employed as temporary fixes. In some cases these repairs took surprisingly rustic forms, including wedging scraps of wood between the panels and the wall to stop the slumping.The panels are warped and buckling because the lead strips, or cames, come from a period between 1880 and 1920 when pure lead was used. Before that time, the lead had impurities such as antimony, tin, copper and aluminum which caused it to be more difficult to work with. However, those trace elements formed an alloy that made the cames stronger and less susceptible to bending.And, in another surprising find, evidence suggests the glass panels in the Senate and House skylights were installed upside down.In most stained glass, one side is textured to manipulate and diffuse light to make it more visually interesting. In the legislative chambers, the textured side is facing upward and not down toward the viewers like in the rotunda or barrel vault skylight. Supporting beams along the panels are also on the top side of the skylights, while traditionally they would be underneath the glass to support the weight of the panels.Barbara Johnson, who has studied stained glass in South Dakota for the past five years, said she's not surprised to read that the panels appeared to have been installed upside down. It seems the roof and dome were constructed too rapidly - the dome was put up in only 10 days - and it also appears there was no onsite supervision from the artist or the studio during the installation.The decorator for the Capitol, William Andrews from Iowa, was later indicted for shoddy workmanship while working on a court house in New Jersey, according to Johnson.But incorrect installation is also not that uncommon, Johnson said. While visiting a church in Red Cloud, Neb., she noticed a large stained glass window depicting John the Evangelist. She noticed he was writing the scriptures with his left hand, which is odd because left is traditionally the side of the devil. Some investigation showed that the whole window had been put in backward.Of course the problem with trying to understand the original installation is that it was so poorly documented. Johnson has only newspaper articles and capital commission meeting notes to piece together the history of the installation. Some basic information, such as where the panels were designed and created is still only an educated guess."We have a real chance to document now with this restoration because it's a re-do," Johnson said.Kevin Grabowski, the national projects director for Conrad Schmitt, said the first thing the studio will do with the panels is detailed documentation. That includes notes, photographs, rubbings and detailed maps of the panels to ensure it's reassembled correctly.It's the type of information they wished they had, instead of the "forensic medicine" they are currently practicing, and will be useful going into the future."So if restorers come behind us, they can see what we did," he said.Once documentation is completed, the studio will strip away the lead cames, either repair or replace individual pieces of glass, and then rebuild the panels. They will also install steel frames to make it easier to remove the panels in the future and alleviate further buckling issues.The reinstallation is a mammoth project, even for Conrad Schmitt, which has worked on other state capitol buildings, basilicas and court houses. Grabowski said it will take all of the studio's craftsmen, which can range between 10 and 16 depending on the project, to finish the estimated 35,000 man-hour project. And that doesn't count the work of local contractor Sharpe to prepare the site and its own work behind the scenes."This is as big as they come," he said.Mike Mueller, a spokesman for the Bureau of Administration, said the project covers 4,400 square feet of glass panels, an area slightly smaller than an NBA basketball court.Despite the scope and cost of the project, Mueller said the bureau never considered anything but restoration for the glass because it's part of the history, politics and art of the state."We consider these stain glass works to be part of the art in the Capitol, just like the murals and the marble," Mueller said.The idea is to give the panels another 100 years of life, in contrast to the quick and temporary fixes done in the past, and preserve the original beauty of the building, he said."It's something we just won't let go," Mueller said.Removal of the rotunda panels will begin Monday, and will last until mid-September. In the spring the barrel vault and legislative chambers skylights will be removed. Reinstallation will commence in June. The goal is for the work to be completed by Oct. 1, 2014, in order to have stained glass ready for the state's 129th anniversary on Nov. 2.

Source: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/07/29/3059251/staAuthor: shangyi

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