St. Paul's in Columbus windows being restored in renovation

COLUMBUS — Let there be colored light.

That’s the goal Bill Dodds has in mind as he repairs, cleans and restores each stained glass window at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Columbus.

The 150-year-old church is undergoing a $950,000 renovation, $180,000 of which is going toward the restoration of the 50-year-old stained glass windows.

Dodds was in Columbus this week on his third trip from Stockbridge, Mass., as part of a monthslong job. His company, Morning Star Stained Glass, is a licensed contractor for Wippell Stained Glass in England, which produced all but two of St. Paul’s windows in the 1950s.

Dodds first visited Columbus four years ago at the invitation of lifelong St. Paul’s member George Hazard as the church prepared to embark on its restoration.

“They are fiercely loved by the people,” said Hazard of the windows. “Every worship service involves them. Their beauty is quite striking when you study them in the light.”

Three-and-a-half years later, Dodds received a call alerting him St. Paul’s was ready to proceed.

Many of St. Paul’s windows, which depict scenes telling the story of Jesus Christ, had to be taken to Dodd’s Stockbridge studio for repairs.

“Every window is different. There is no one size fits all (repair),” said Dodds. “These had some serious structural problems to them because of the intense heat down here, then some other technical issues.

“I removed all the panels. Some had to be resized. Some had to be brought back to my studio, taken apart and put back together because they had deteriorated.”

Dodds disassembled the windows and vented the protective glazing on the outside of the layered panels to allow air circulation, which will add to the windows’ longevity.

“It’s time consuming and takes a lot of patience. It’s an old craft. But the way I do it, it will last for 100 years,” said Dodds. “I take a lot of pride and want them to last 100 years.”

Dodds picked up on stained glass work 30 years ago when, while in his 20s, he fell in with a studio of 80-year-old artisans who taught him the craft. The elder glassmen had done the glasswork at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.

“I learned from the old guard. It was handed down from generation to generation,” Dodds recalls.

The classic education serves Dodds well as he works on delicate Wippell windows and more prestigious Tiffany windows.

Louis Comfort Tiffany, a relative to New York’s Tiffany jewelers, introduced a revolutionary method for creating stained glass in the 1800s using multiple layers of glass.

“Stained glass had been made the same way for 900 years until this guy came along,” said Dodds.

Two of St. Paul’s windows, one depicting the resurrection of Christ and another located behind the altar, are Tiffany windows. Dodds is still working on the Tiffany windows and hopes to return before Christmas to reinstall them.

“I’m really looking forward to that Tiffany window. It’s like five layers thick and intricate and almost ethereal in the way it glows,” he said.

The altar window was likely installed around 1860, he noted, and the altar was later built in front of it, obscuring the window from the inside and forcing Dodds to remove it from the outside.

The effect of the newly restored windows is already obvious inside the church and compliments the other renovations, Hazard said.

“The pews in the church are a lighter color and you can see the prism (from the windows) on the masonry and on the pews. The light through the windows is much improved. I’m glad to have them back in tiptop condition for the next couple decades,” he said.

Dodds, who has traveled as far as Texas for his work, says he’s been impressed with Columbus’ hospitality and the way the St. Paul’s family has greeted him.

“They’ve really taken me into their family. It’s a business deal, but they’ve taken me in very warmly,” he said. “Around the country I’ve seen a lot of churches people have let fail. It’s really great for me to see people appreciate the church they have and take care of it. I’m glad to be a part of that process.”

Jason Browne/The Commercial Dispatch