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Oakhill Cemetery chapel missing stained glass is a 'fantastic' find: Artist

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Marcia Nelesen
September 24, 2013

JANESVILLE--For local stained-glass expert Richard Snyder, discovering hundreds of pieces of century-old glass—thrown into a box, stacked behind casket covers and coated with plaster dust and ceiling tiles—was as good as finding buried treasure in the basement of the Oakhill Cemetery chapel.

“This never happens,” Snyder said. “When they say it's gone, it's gone.

“It's just incredible to find something like this.”

The pieces of thick glass through the years had loosened from the windows upstairs in the historic chapel, a 114-year-old structure located in the west side cemetery.

A group of residents is forming to save the structure.

The stained glass windows are a focal point of the masonry building, and Snyder has offered to donate some of his labor to renovate the windows.

While the northern windows are mostly intact, the southern windows are missing more than 60 percent of the original pieces. Sheets of plain amber glass has replaced the missing pieces.

The front rosette is filled with amber.

The city was forced to take ownership of the cemetery in 2008, and staff had told Snyder the glass was gone.

Last week, he took a look around the musty basement himself and found the treasure trove, what he called a “fantastic find.”

The hundreds of pieces had come loose because putty and lead deteriorate over time. Loose glass probably was removed and stored in the box by a caretaker so it wouldn't crash to the floor. Others pieces were found nearby, still caught in a web of cracked lead.

“It's just incredible art glass,” Snyder said.

The thick, hand-painted pieces were fired multiple times. The glass is painted in greens, purples, yellows and browns. The jumble includes pieces of the light blue glass with a hammered texture that rims the large windows upstairs.

Snyder has found a few of the medallions and hopes to find more.

Snyder would use the existing windows as a guide to restore the southern windows. He hopes an old postcard will give him clues to fill in the rosette.

Any missing pieces of glass can be reproduced and matched by artists.

Snyder removed the glass from the chapel basement for safe keeping. A piece of basement ceiling was hanging loose overhead, and he was worried about more damage.

“It would be a great honor to work on these,” Snyder said.

GROUP FORMS TO SAVE CHAPEL

JANESVILLE--Members of a fledgling group forming to save the Oakhill Cemetery chapel believe it can be done for less than $100,000.

The result would be a “good, solid renovation” that would last for decades with the only major reoccurring expense being the occasional new roof, said Ron Sutterlin of Sutterlin Restorations.

The Janesville City Council has given the group until February to return with a plan.

An architect hired by the city has presented a range of costs. The most expensive option would cost $378,824 and includes adding a bathroom.

Jackie Wood, a group member, and Sutterlin don't believe a bathroom is needed.

A handicapped accessible entrance should be built, and the brick port cochere should come down, Sutterlin agreed.

Large cracks in the mortar aren't as critical as initially thought, he said.

Sutterlin would donate his skills in masonry, and he said many of his company's suppliers have called and offered to help.

City staff recommended the chapel be demolished because staff couldn't figure a reuse for the space after spending the money to fix it.

“Words can't describe what a shame it would be if (the city) went ahead with the tear down,” Sutterlin said.

Not many examples of the Gothic Revival style remain, he said.

“It doesn't have to be generating money,” Sutterlin said. “We have enough reception areas, catering areas.”

Funeral services could continue to be held in the chapel.

“But, couldn't it just be a place for people to go, to reflect and meditate?” he asked.

“Can't we just look at it? It's a beautiful piece of architecture."



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