Image Image Image 01 Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image
Scroll to Top

To Top

Restoration

Transparent Glory: Expert examines stained-glass windows at cathedral.

Tags | , ,

By Marvin Read

Sacred Heart Cathedral (Pueblo, CO) prior to restoration

Sacred Heart Cathedral (Pueblo, CO) prior to restoration of the windows by Emil Frei Studios

PUEBLO, CO — Ladders, binoculars, a sharp eye, a sensitive set of fingers, a genetic predisposition for his art and a near lifetime of experience:  These are among the tools that Stephen Frei, 51 brings to Pueblo’s Cathedral of the Sacred Heart and other churches across the nation.

Frei was in Pueblo-and at the cathedral- this week inspecting the several priceless and irreplaceable stained-glass windows that give the church building an important part of its immense, classical charm.

Frei’s great grandfather, Emil, founded the company created, crafted and installed the windows in 1913.  Stephen Frei now heads the 107-year-old St. Louis, MO., company, now known as Emil Frei Associates Inc.

Considering that they’re more than 90 years old, the 45 windows in the French Gothic Revival building retain all their rich and vibrant colors and are in generally good shape.

Frei is minutely examining the 15 larger, more ornate windows and another 30 smaller, less complicated pieces, to discover what the inevitable weathering and aging processes have done to their stability.  He will submit a multi-tiered proposal to cathedral officials and the Friends of the Cathedral, a group of locals spearheading overall restoration of the building, on the National Register of Historic Places since 1989.

The committee will decide how and to what extent it wants and can afford to continue.

Among several tasks are replacement of panes containing some donors’ names- at the bottom of the smaller windows and located where repeated openings and closing broke the glass-that were “repaired” with inferior paint-on glass; some stabilization, cleaning and replacement of the Lexan covering on the outdoor side of the windows with a newer type of protection.

The windows aren’t just pretty, colored glass.  They’re an artistic and liturgical mystery of sorts, marrying art and science to breed vast panoplies of faith-oriented reflection.

As Frei stood on a tall ladder examining the huge window-14 feet wide and 24 1/2 feet high-celebrating the Assumption of Mary into heaven, he estimated that the bottom half of the window alone contained at least 4,000 pieces of glass.

As he gently touched the glass face of an angel in the scene, he said, “it took at least four full days to create this one piece.”  As a viewer looked at the seemingly innumerable pieces of glass fitted like mosaic pieces into the arch-shaped window and held together by lead, he could imagine and calculate months and months of artistic and physical labor involved.

The window is but one of more than a dozen larger works in the church building, located at 11th Street and Grand Avenue.  A window of the same dimensions, honoring Jesus Christ, sits across the building; while four smaller windows are posed high above the sanctuary and another eight, four on each side, are set into the north and south walls of the church.  A rose window- so named for its rounded shape and petal-like layerings of decoration- floats above the choir loft at the church’s entry.

All in all, while there are many decorative and ornamental details within the cathedral’s interior, it is the windows- with their artistic and intricate detail and rainbow-spanning display of colors, light filtered into many shades and hues- that elicit outright awe.

Frei wouldn’t put any sort of dollar worth on the windows, but noted that a mere square foot of window, created and installed today, would cost about $1,050. There seem to be acres of square footage in the cathedral’s windows, leading to a conservative financial estimate of “priceless.”

The Assumption of Mary in the southern transept of Sacred Heart Cathedral (Pueblo, CO) created by Emil Frei Studios.

The Assumption of Mary in the southern transept of Sacred Heart Cathedral (Pueblo, CO) created by Emil Frei Studios.

Frei is the fourth generation of the family to preside over the studio in St. Louis, where much of the work- including design, artistry, hand-cutting, painting and firing the glass- is done in much the same way it was done more than 500 years ago.  The labor-intensive mouth-blowing of the glass is done in Germany and the sheets imported here.

Painting and tinting are accomplished not with paints, but with various chemicals and oxides in the molten glass, or added on by the artist before the glass is kiln-fired at 1,150 degrees and the painting permanently affixed.

Frei said his studio staff is much smaller than that which his grandfather supervised, because the design and demands of churches are different than they would have been a century ago, in what might be called the heyday of American church buildings.

But he saluted his staff of trained, devoted and liturgically educated artists and craftsman, noting that, while about half the studio’s work is in Catholic churches, the rest is for Protestant churches and Jewish synagogues and temples.

Frei, a gregarious and affable man, lauded the people with whom he worked earlier this week in Pueblo;  “I was so impressed with them.  As beautiful as the cathedral itself is, the people were even more beautiful.  I’m sincere when I say that I can’t recall ever having met people who were kinder and gentler, who were so totally interested in doing good for the church building.”

Emil Frei Sr. was considered as St. Louis’ premier stained-glass artist.

As his great-grandson tells the story, the artist and his wife “had emigrated to San Francisco from Germany but longed to return home.  On their way across the country, they stopped in St. Louis to visit some German friends.  They were so taken by the German community of South St. Louis that they stayed.”

The elder Frei, who had studied at the  Munich School of Arts and Craft, went on to design the stained-glass windows of several St. Louis churches.

Stephen Frei described the Pueblo cathedral windows as in “the Munich (Germany) style of pictorial stained glass, a style most prolifically produced by Franz Meyer and F.X. Zettler in Germany for European churches, and by Emil Frei Inc. for churches in the United States.”

The Munich style characterized by ornate borders, typically done in white glass to suggest stone tracery, bright colors of mouth-blown glass and three-dimensional perspective and asymmetrical arrangements of figures.

Frei said he grew up working in the Frei studio, “watching and cleaning up from when I was 7 or 8 years old.”  He began cutting glass as a teenager and explained, “There aren’t any schools for this sort of thing.  You simply have to learn from the ground up.”

He said that his father, Robert, still works at the studio at the age of 80.

Frei said that the Pueblo cathedral’s windows “were high quality to begin with, are in very good shape and we’d all like to make them last more or less forever.”

 

Published in: The Pueblo Chieftain. May 2005.

  • Comments:
    Comments Off on Transparent Glory: Expert examines stained-glass windows at cathedral.