Visitors to the Godfrey campus of Lewis and Clark Community College this summer might feel as though something is missing, due in large part to a major restoration project that has resulted in the removal of the college’s extensive stained and art glass collection - the most noticeable piece being the 7-by-10-foot “Praise Angel” window, which was carefully removed last week and is part of an ongoing mystery.
The college’s Godfrey campus evokes history to anyone who passes by its notable front gates, stately trees, majestic front lawn and Theodore Link designed main complex, which housed the female students of Monticello College from 1838-1970. The main complex is adorned with an abundance of stained glass windows – some covert in small decorative frames, and others more conspicuous such as “Praise Angel,” which is most visible at night from the roadway.
In an effort to preserve the historic integrity of the stained glass artwork that decorates the nearly 175-year-old campus, the college is working with Jacksonville Art Glass of Jacksonville, Ill. A company that specializes in window design and restoration, Jacksonville Art Glass started with an assessment of the glass features throughout the historic main complex earlier this year. Upon inspection, the company discovered the largest collection of art glass in the region and is currently working to uncover the mystery of the “Praise Angel” window, located inside Reid Memorial Library.
“This is really one of the most significant collections of stained glass that we have ever uncovered in this region,” said John Krol, owner of Jacksonville Art Glass. “There are more than 75 panels of stained or decorative glass throughout the main complex. This extensive collection of art glass is all being removed and will be restored using the highest standard of preservation methods.”
Jacksonville Art Glass is the only studio between St. Louis and Chicago that offers complete art glass services.
“We specialize in the restoration of delicate stained glass windows and hold ourselves accountable to a standard high above most stained glass restoration studios,” Krol said.
He added that while inspecting the windows to determine the level of restoration that might be needed to preserve them, the company and its artisans were taken aback by the striking similarities between the “Praise Angel” window and the distinct artistic design elements made famous by Louis Comfort Tiffany.
“The entire set of four windows inside the library show unique features that were popular around the turn of the century,” Krol said. “The angel’s wings are made up of distinct drapery glass made popular by Tiffany.”
Noticing these similarities, Krol and his team contacted Tiffany historians to see if there was any record of the project, and found nothing. However, what appear to be initials and a date have been discovered in a small section of the window.
“That section is now partially covered with repair putty, and we are hoping that now that we have removed the window we can look behind the putty to determine the initials of the artist and further research who designed this window and when it was installed,” Krol said. “It is very possible that the person who created this window could have worked with Tiffany or been a top artisan of the same stained glass artistic movement.”
Lewis and Clark President Dale Chapman said the mystery of the window has everyone searching through archives in excitement.
“It’s amazing that even after being here for more than two decades, I continue to find historical elements about this campus that I never knew existed,” he said. “Every time you walk around the exterior of the main complex you notice a new date in a cornerstone, a new artistic element on the façade of the main complex, or a new architectural element you’ve never witnessed before. This campus is full of history and stories that are just waiting to be discovered, and we are anxious to determine the origin of this revered window.”
Chapman said he immediately went to Linda Nevlin, executive director of the Monticello Foundation, to see what information she had on the window. Nevlin indicated that the main complex originally burned in 1888 and believes the window was most likely added as part of the reconstruction, which would date it to approximately 1890.
“The Monticello Foundation appreciates the preservation efforts the college is making to insure the long term integrity of this valuable collection that is rooted in the history of Monticello College,” she said.
Nevlin said she is currently conducting research of Monticello College’s archival documents in her possession to uncover any clues related to the stained glass art collection.
“In addition to Linda’s search, we are currently making contact with the Illinois State Museum, whom we believe is in possession of some of Monticello’s archives as well,” Chapman said. “We are hoping to be able to gather more information about the ‘Praise Angel’ window and the entire collection during the time of restoration.”
The “Praise Angel” name has been passed down over time, and most likely derived from the large angel that is the centerpiece of the window. The words at the bottom of the window read “Te Laudamus Domine,” Latin words that translate to “We praise you, Oh Lord.”
The large “Praise Angel” window is part of a four-window installation. The two windows on either side are dedicated to Harriet Haskell, the original principal of Monticello College, and her niece Elizabeth Haskell.
“We believe these two side windows were installed at a later date than the original angel window in the center,” Krol said.
Now that the windows on campus have all been removed, the Jacksonville Art Glass company will take the delicate pieces back to their studios where they will be cleaned, preserved and fully restored to their original luster.
“These pieces are so significant to the exterior and interior look and feel of this historic complex,” Lewis and Clark Board Chairman Robert L. Watson said. “They are badly in need of care and restoration, some having never been touched since they were originally installed more than 100 years ago. We are excited to be working with Jacksonville Art Glass and cannot wait to see the pieces restored and reinstalled on campus.”
“This will be an amazing transformation to anyone who is use to seeing these art pieces on a regular basis,” Krol said. “We are looking forward to restoring what we consider to be the most significant collection of art glass this area has ever seen.”
Krol opened his first studio in Chicago in 1980. It is with this wealth of knowledge and history that he brought his techniques to Jacksonville. In a short time, Jacksonville Art Glass emerged as the only full service studio in Central Illinois. The studio’s capabilities range from new window design and construction to single sash restoration and total restoration. The studio prides itself on consistently acquiring new, non-evasive techniques in window preservation and restoration.
Founded in 1970, Lewis and Clark held its first classes on the grounds of Monticello College, a small, private liberal arts college for women founded in 1838. Monticello College closed in 1971, and its picturesque 215-acre campus became the beautiful main campus of Lewis and Clark Community College.
The windows will be fully restored using techniques that preserve the integrity of the original artist and craftsmen. It is anticipated that in early August the windows will be returned to campus and reinstalled, at which time Chapman anticipates the college will provide tours focused on the art glass.
“We currently welcome more than 150,000 visitors to campus annually for campus, sculpture and garden tours, as well as special events,” he said. We anticipate the stained glass art collection on campus, once restored and reinstalled, will also be an area of special interest among groups.”
The entire restoration process can be viewed on the Jacksonville Art Company website, where pictures will be posted weekly of the progress. To view the project log on to www.jacksonvilleartglass.com and select “Restoration Galleries” and “Lewis and Clark Community College.”