Fort Wayne courthouse's stained glass dome undergoes repairs

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Art Femenella's job is all about defying gravity.

Wednesday afternoon, that was apparent as a crew of three attached cables to a 20-foot-long, 200-pound stained-glass panel and hoisted it more than 100 feet from the lobby to the top of the interior dome of the historic Allen County Courthouse.

But what might not have been apparent is that gravity also was reason the panel - and 19 others like it - were removed in January so they could be restored by Femenella's business.

After spending nearly a century adorning the apex of the courthouse ceiling, the panels had begun to suffer from a phenomenon known as deflection. The condition results from gravity invisibly acting on the lead holding the glass in place.

Though it seems solid, the lead is actually malleable, Femenella explained. It stretches and shifts - deflects - over time, he said, and that can compromise the whole panel's structure.

As deflection progresses, shards of glass can come loose. If a piece were to fall to the lobby floor, "it could literally kill someone," Femenella said.

Yeah, gravity can do that.

Femenella, who has been in the business of stained-glass restoration for 44 years, knows quite a bit about the physical forces behind his craft.

He was majoring in physics at the City College of New York when he went to a craft fair and became entranced by stained glass.

Physics suddenly "didn't excite me," he said. So, instead of graduating, Femenella "went around New York City knocking on doors" to get a foothold in the field of stained glass - soon finding out his background was unusual.

"Most people working with stained glass come at it from an art background," he said. But knowing science has helped him earn work on many large and prestigious projects, including the restoration of the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

"It was really his resume that got us to hire him," said Robyn Zimmerman, executive director of the Allen County Courthouse Preservation Trust, which oversees the ongoing restoration of the Beaux Arts-style building dating to the turn of the 20th century.

Femenella and his company, Femenella & Associates of Branchburg, New Jersey, came highly recommended by other preservation contractors who had worked on the courthouse, she said.

Zimmerman said the stained-glass panels were not leaking – they are not exposed to the elements because there is an attic-like space above them. Other parts of the courthouse, including exterior clock faces, have had recent water damage, she said.

But maintenance workers and trust officials had noticed they could see through cracks in the panels, she said.

Femenella said the panels are made largely from opalescent glass, a technique dating from the 1870s that produces translucent glass with a marble-like appearance. The panels also are studded with large glass beads known as jewels, he said.

Replacing the panels, which also were reinforced as part of the restoration, began Monday and should be finished by the end of the week, he said.

Femenella called the courthouse impressive.

"It's amazing," he said. "Everything is big. Everything is decorated. This is one of those cases where more is more."

He added he's happy to make a preservation contribution - one that should last 50 or 60 years.


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  1. The voices of the prophets are more on blogs than subway walls these days, Dawn. Here is the voice of one calling out in the wilderness ... against a corrupted judiciary ... that remains corrupt a decade and a half later ... due to, so sadly, the acquiescence of good judges unwilling to shake the forest ... for fear that is not faith ..

  2. So I purchased a vehicle cash from the lot on West Washington in Feb 2017. Since then I found it the vehicle had been declared a total loss and had sat in a salvage yard due to fire. My title does not show any of that. I also have had to put thousands of dollars into repairs because it was not a solid vehicle like they stated. I need to find out how to contact the lawyers on this lawsuit.

  3. It really doesn't matter what the law IS, if law enforcement refuses to take reports (or take them seriously), if courts refuse to allow unrepresented parties to speak (especially in Small Claims, which is supposedly "informal"). It doesn't matter what the law IS, if constituents are unable to make effective contact or receive any meaningful response from their representatives. Two of our pets were unnecessarily killed; court records reflect that I "abandoned" them. Not so; when I was denied one of them (and my possessions, which by court order I was supposed to be able to remove), I went directly to the court. And earlier, when I tried to have the DV PO extended (it expired while the subject was on probation for violating it), the court denied any extension. The result? Same problems, less than eight hours after expiration. Ironic that the county sheriff was charged (and later pleaded to) with intimidation, but none of his officers seemed interested or capable of taking such a report from a private citizen. When I learned from one officer what I needed to do, I forwarded audio and transcript of one occurrence and my call to law enforcement (before the statute of limitations expired) to the prosecutor's office. I didn't even receive an acknowledgement. Earlier, I'd gone in to the prosecutor's office and been told that the officer's (written) report didn't match what I said occurred. Since I had the audio, I can only say that I have very little faith in Indiana government or law enforcement.

  4. One can only wonder whether Mr. Kimmel was paid for his work by Mr. Burgh ... or whether that bill fell to the citizens of Indiana, many of whom cannot afford attorneys for important matters. It really doesn't take a judge(s) to know that "pavement" can be considered a deadly weapon. It only takes a brain and some education or thought. I'm glad to see the conviction was upheld although sorry to see that the asphalt could even be considered "an issue".

  5. In response to bryanjbrown: thank you for your comment. I am familiar with Paul Ogden (and applaud his assistance to Shirley Justice) and have read of Gary Welsh's (strange) death (and have visited his blog on many occasions). I am not familiar with you (yet). I lived in Kosciusko county, where the sheriff was just removed after pleading in what seems a very "sweetheart" deal. Unfortunately, something NEEDS to change since the attorneys won't (en masse) stand up for ethics (rather making a show to please the "rules" and apparently the judges). I read that many attorneys are underemployed. Seems wisdom would be to cull the herd and get rid of the rotting apples in practice and on the bench, for everyone's sake as well as justice. I'd like to file an attorney complaint, but I have little faith in anything (other than the most flagrant and obvious) resulting in action. My own belief is that if this was medicine, there'd be maimed and injured all over and the carnage caused by "the profession" would be difficult to hide. One can dream ... meanwhile, back to figuring out to file a pro se "motion to dismiss" as well as another court required paper that Indiana is so fond of providing NO resources for (unlike many other states, who don't automatically assume that citizens involved in the court process are scumbags) so that maybe I can get the family law attorney - whose work left me with no settlement, no possessions and resulted in the death of two pets (etc ad nauseum) - to stop abusing the proceedings supplemental and small claims rules and using it as a vehicle for harassment and apparently, amusement.