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Michigan church’s stained glass windows could be rarity

Francis X. Donnelly
The Detroit News

Addison — Pastor Kevin Duffy was pleased earlier this week as he watched three stained-glass windows installed at Addison Congregational Church in southern Michigan.

Apprentice Joseph Llano holds a stained glass panel of Jesus at Gethsemane in place while it is secured.

The multicolored panels, which show Jesus in various guises, will capture church members’ imaginations, he said.

But such windows may become increasingly rare.

Proposed federal regulations could drive up the price of stained glass to where only the richest churches and businesses could afford it, artists say.

“These may be the last of their kind in a U.S. church for some time,” said Richard Hanley, who designed the Addison church windows, on Thursday.

Pollution controls being considered by the Environmental Protection Agency were a factor in the May closing of Spectrum Glass, one of the biggest suppliers of stained glass in the U.S.

The closing will force artists to look outside the U.S. for glass, where the cost could be four times more expensive, said Hanley.

The windows installed at Addison Congregation were already a hefty $60,000.

The three panels show Jesus with children, being baptized and at Gethsemane, where he prayed the night before his crucifixion.

The reason for the high price is because Hanley is one of few artists who employs an old European style. He paints on the glass as opposed to the contemporary style of piecing together colored pieces of glass.

But the nondenominational church with evangelical character didn’t blink at the high price, or the fact it could be even more expensive in the future because of the federal rules.

“Is there a price that doesn’t go up in the world?” said Duffy, who has visited the Sistine Chapel in Rome.

“I’m sure that was expensive in its time. To do something like it tomorrow would be more expensive.”

He said the cost was borne by a donor who wanted to elevate the sacredness of the sanctuary.

The possible danger of stained glass doesn’t have to do with the finished product, but the making of the glass.

An EPA investigation early this year found high levels of several toxic metals in the air around two glass factories in Portland, Oregon, the agency said.

Among the materials are arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, manganese and nickel, said the EPA. Cadmium is a heavy metal that can cause lung cancer.

The metals add color to the glass.

The EPA already required furnaces that continually produce glass to be equipped with industrial filters that prevent pollutants from escaping smokestacks.

After the Portland discovery, the federal agency may require the filters from all glass manufacturers that make more than 50 tons of glass a year with toxic chemicals.

The expensive filters would drive up the cost of glass sold in the U.S., artists say.

Hanley already uses glass from both U.S. makers and foreign ones. The U.S. ones charge $4 to $5 a square foot while foreign ones charge $20, he said.

If churches and businesses move away from stained-glass, they may switch to fused glass, said artists.

It isn’t as striking as stained glass, but it’s cheaper.

“There’s an amazing difference in price,” Hanley said.

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Twitter: @francisXdonnell

Staff writer Jim Lynch contributed