First Presbyterian Church Windows – Clarksville, Tenn.
Modern-Tech Aluminum Cast Windows Yield Glorious Results for National Register Church
The deteriorating windows of a prominent Gothic Revival church recently became a puzzle to solve for Charlie Foust, the president of Clarksville Foundry. He did so with technology.
Innovative Blend of Metallurgy, Lighting and Stained Glass Reproduces 1878 Windows with Reduced Weight and Cost
Along with other members of First Presbyterian Church of Historic Downtown Clarksville, Tenn., Foust became alarmed in late 2015 that three of the building’s 1878-vintage stained-glass windows had fallen into a state of disrepair. Their salvation was found through the ingenuity of an artist, an artisan, engineers, a congregation and the community, who were all inspired by Foust’s vision.
The windows, three rosettes, were located in the bell tower of the Gothic Revival-style church, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Originally crafted of wood, nail and glue construction, the frames had rotted and cracked, jeopardizing their structural integrity and placing in danger the hand-colored, stenciled glass held within their tracery.
The time-honored solution would have been to fabricate new frames out of wood, as had been done in 1878. This approach, while still standard today, is expensive and results in frames that will ultimately decay again. Since the frames, each 5 feet in diameter, are mounted 40 feet above grade, future maintenance was no small consideration.
The Right Stuff
Clarksville Foundry has long produced castings for historic buildings, courthouses and parks across the U.S. so Foust knew that recreating the original frames in cast aluminum – then adding a powder-coated finish – would make them impervious to the elements.
“The intricate, carved design would make fabricated steel or carved stone impractical and cost prohibitive,” Foust said. “Cast aluminum is corrosion resistant, lighter in weight and is a stable material. It will be a permanent fix to the challenge of deterioration.”
By using the original frames to create new patterns and molds, Clarksville Foundry could provide exact replicas of the rosette frames.
“A wood pattern was built to duplicate a one-tenth segment of each window in every detail,” Foust explained. “That pattern was then used to make a sand mold into which melted aluminum was poured and, ultimately, the 10 segments were assembled to form a faithful reproduction of each original window.”
The Team Assembles
The church commissioned Clarksville artist Miranda Herrick to create new patterns for each window’s stained glass to replace the original, faded stenciled glass. Herrick’s designs took on a graphic, kaleidoscope quality as they emerged in blue, green, red and yellow tones.
Nashville’s Emmanuel Stained Glass Studio produced the stained-glass panels. Dennis Harmon, the studio’s owner, is a master craftsman who makes and repairs stained glass for churches around the country.
“What Charlie Foust has come up with is pretty innovative,” Harmon said. “There’s a market for it and churches don’t realize it. If they have a rotting wooden frame, up until this point they’ve always used wooden replacements.”
Tommy and Rosemary Page, Ashland City, Tenn.-based lighting consultants, also contributed cutting-edge technology through ImagiLux LED light panels created from acrylic to fit every petal of each rosette window. (The sun was not a factor in this case, as the bell tower location does not allow the windows to be viewed from the interior.)
“The goal was to make the windows visible from outside at night,” Rosemary said. “The 100-percent dimmable, custom-designed panels were the perfect choice.”
First Presbyterian’s pastor, Rev. Gregory L. Glover, says, “The newly renovated windows are a miracle marriage of old-style craftsmanship and modern foundry and lighting technology.”
The church also realized significant cost savings through this marriage, spending about one-third of typical refurbishment costs.
Formed in new patterns and encased in a new material, this colored glass will illuminate the darkness for centuries to come, evoking spiritual transcendence by splashing passersby with tinted light. And it was born of a simple dream to bring history up to date.
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