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Restoration

Glass restoration kept in family

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By Mark Cooper

Mary Bryan Hood, director of the Owensboro Museum of Fine Art, broke the news to him gently, David Frei said Wednesday.

“It was like someone calling a mother to tell her that her child was involved in an accident,” said Frei, 39, referring to a phone call from Hood after a fire wrecked the museum in June.  “She said, ‘We’ve had a fire, but the windows are OK.’ ”

On Tuesday, Frei and one of his employees began restoring–again–the museum’s collection of 16 stained-glass windows, artwork built by Frei’s great-grandfather, Emil Frei, in the early 1900s for St. Joseph Catholic Church in Owensboro.

Restoration work on the atrium and new wing portions of the museum began last week in hopes of a partial reopening in early summer, Hood said.  Bids for restoring the John Hampden Smith House have not yet been awarded, she said.

The stained-glass windows were covered with soot but were mostly unharmed by the fire, said Frei, who used cleanser, water, sponges and brushes to wipe away the grime Tuesday.

Originally installed in the church on East Fourth Street in 1912, the windows were made at Emil Frei’s studios in Munich, Germany.

The Catholic Dioceses of Owensboro donated the stained-glass windows from the church, which was built in 1878 and razed in 1989, to the art museum.

The cleaning work could have been done by other contractors, but Frei and his company are well-versed in caring for his great-grandfather’s work.  Frei’s company, Emil Frei and Associates Inc., restored the windows in 1994 when they were displayed permanently in 25-foot tall light towers in the museum.

You have to know what the stained glass can take,” Frei said, who said just under half of his company’s work today is restoring old windows, many done in the “Munich pictorial” style of his great-grandfather.

Stained glass windows made today are more simple and abstract because the skills and techniques required to make windows like his great-grandfather’s have waned, Frei said.

“The construction techniques have not changed, but the painting detail and skill have changed,” Frei said.  “My great-grandfather’s company had specialists.  One would just do hands, another would just do draperies.  Over time, they got to be very good at what they did.”

Stained glass windows are constructed much like a puzzle, Frei said.  The glass isn’t painted.  Each piece is made using metal oxides that melt and meld with the glass when the pieces are fired in a kiln.  The pieces are assembled with metal piping to hold the finished glass together.

Frei and an employee, Jeff Govro, hope to finish with their work in a few days.  The work will cost between $5,000 and $6,000, Hood said.

Work restoring other parts of the damaged museum has begun in earnest, Hood said.

Carpet and ceiling tiles have been removed throughout the damaged portions of the museum, and duct work and walls have been washed, Hood said.  Several doors and walls have received a fresh coat of paint.

Hood said a press conference in April will reveal the museum’s plans for the summer.

A roofer’s torch has been blamed for igniting the roof of the John Hampden Smith House on June 6.  About 1,500 pieces of art were affected by the fire, but no art was destroyed, Hood said.

 

Published in: Messenger-Inquirer. March 25, 2004