By JEFFREY JENSEN
The stained glass window restoration is now complete and a big “shout-out” and special thank you from the St. Josaphat Basilica Foundation to all of you who have generously contributed to this significant project. Five windows in all, including the prominent Mary and St. Joseph figurals (the oldest in the church) located in the east and west stairwells have had their beauty and clarity revived by the artisans and craftsmen of internationally recognized Conrad Schmitt Studios, a New Berlin, Wisconsin company that has worked on Basilica windows since 1926.
Last fall during the October 2018 Gala celebration, a “Special Appeal” was launched to raise awareness of the window restoration plan and to seek donations from individuals and groups in order to finance the undertaking. The focus of the 2019 Spring Appeal was again on the stained glass window restoration. As a result of those initiatives and due to the generosity of many caring folks, about $130,000 was collected toward the total projected cost of $200,000.
Obviously, it takes specially trained, experienced technicians to do this type of work and it doesn’t come cheap. Each of the two large bell tower windows will cost $80,000 each with Polanki, the Polish Women’s Cultural Club of Milwaukee, contributing a hefty $50,000 through a multi-year pledge specifically allocated toward those expenses. In addition, at last October’s Gala event about $40,000 was raised through attendees Special Appeal donations beyond their silent auction, voice auction, and raffle participation. And in a singular benevolent gesture one kindly gentleman donated $10,000 toward the “Mary” window, in memory of loved ones. Indeed, no matter how large or small the amount, any and all donations are noteworthy and invaluable gifts that advance the St. Josaphat Basilica Foundation’s mission to preserve, restore and enhance the church.
To be sure, there is a real science to the work of stained glass restoration and conservation, and Conrad Schmitt Studios has earned a stellar reputation over its 100-plus years of existence. Conservation is the preferred method of treatment because the focus is on saving every piece of glass except those that are beyond repair. This approach preserves the original artist’s hand and simply cleans the glass and returns it to its frame.
The process starts with a comprehensive examination and documentation of what the project requires. Rubbings and sketches help record measurements and other aspects of the glass and leading texture. A permanent record of these findings is then created which can serve as a future guide for Conrad Schmitt and the Basilica. Each panel of glass can be viewed as a piece of a giant, elaborate, jigsaw puzzle and when ready for the meticulous re-installment stage, the handlers even allow for small movements in the building to ensure stability.
Finally, while the origins of the craft of stained glass are vague, for a thousand years their splendor has appealed to people’s senses and drawn inspiration around the world. It’s certainly not easy to argue with the anonymous individual who claimed, “More than any other art form, stained glass touches the soul.”
The St. Josaphat Basilica Foundation continues to be dedicated to the protection of our own “Poetry in Light”, understanding its historic and artistic significance. We are privileged to share in the vital responsibility of its preservation.
Come and see the Basilica of St. Josaphat, it’s one of the top things to do in Milwaukee. Let this beautiful church inspire you. Choose from self-guided or docent-led tours.