Art of glass: Jonesborough artist re-creates windows for historic church in Rogersville

Jeff Bobo • Updated Oct 24, 2019 at 10:14 AM

ROGERSVILLE — While some old stains were being removed this week from the exterior of Rogersville's 107-year-old St. Marks Presbyterian Church, a Jonesborough artist was preparing to add some new stains to the interior of the historic church.

Jonesborough stained-glass artist Steve Cook has re-created six stained-glass windows that were destroyed as a result of a major wind and hail storm that hit Rogersville in 2011.

A seventh piece, which will be installed at the front of the building between the two main entrances, is awaiting the completion of its unique center medallion. 

Cook located the Indiana company that created the church's stained glass more than a century ago, and as luck would have it, St. Marks' stained glass was still on file at the company and could be manufactured to match the original windows.

The history of St. Marks

A committee is working to restore the church, which was founded in 1875 as Rogersville's first African American Presbyterian church.

The current church building was constructed at the corner of Hasson Street and Kyle Street in 1912 on property that belonged to the African American Swift College and is now owned the Hawkins County Board of Education.

The church dissolved in 2002, and in 2006 it was added to the National Registry of Historic Places. But the building fell into disrepair, and it was identified in 2015 among the 10 most-endangered historic locations in Tennessee.

That same year the school board gave the restoration committee permission to renovate the church into a community center for the arts.

The restoration begins

In 2017, Rogersville was awarded a $100,000 downtown facade grant, about half of which was dedicated for exterior repairs at the church.

Last year, the east and west walls, which were bowing outward, were repaired and stabilized.

A new roof and guttering were installed earlier this year, and on Tuesday workers were putting a fresh coat of paint on the wood exterior, as well as the bricks.

Meanwhile, most of the stained glass is completed and inside the chapel ready to be placed.

Glass not quite ready to install

Cook was at St. Marks on Tuesday working on the framing for the main front stained-glass window.

Lynchburg Stained Glass in Lynchburg, Virginia, is re-creating the stained glass centerpiece “medallion” for that front glass, which had a unique design.

“We took the rectangular windows in the front that are around the medallion window,” Cook said, “and I've totally disassembled them, and built them back with new lead. And when the medallion window is ready, we'll pop it in the middle and we'll have a celebration.”

Cook took a break Tuesday afternoon to talk with the Times News about the St. Marks project.

How did you get involved with the project?

“Through a friend down here. I helped them out early on to redo a free-standing window so they could take it to fundraisers and events, and try to raise some money to help with the refurbishing of the St. Marks church.”

How did you match the new windows to the old?

“We re-created the pattern of the old windows, and these six windows on the west side are all new made to match the existing windows on the east side that didn't get destroyed when these did.”

Was it a perfect match?

Cook: “I'm real close. There was a border glass — this (purple) glass is a little different. It's similar, but it's a little different from the original because that glass simply wasn't available, and wasn't going to be available anytime soon. Sometimes you just have to make do.”

Is re-creating stained-glass windows difficult?

Cook: “It's not hard. It's time-consuming, and rewarding in a creative way. I just created the pattern from the dimensions on the existing windows, and then we ordered the glass. This (center green) field glass had to be made. They didn't have any.”

Where did the new glass come from?

Cook: “This came from Kokomo Opalescent Glass in Kokomo, Indiana, and they made the original glass that these windows were made from 100 years ago. They've been making glass for about 130 years. That's the best way to do it when you're trying to match glass. I sent them samples. There was a little delay in getting the glass because they have to have a certain amount in order to make the glass. It was six or eight weeks, and they finally got it done and shipped it to us, and we turned it into these windows.”

Bulletproof protection

There will be sheets of clear Lexan on the outside protecting the stained glass, but not detracting from the ability to see it outside or inside. Lexan is the same material that racecar drivers make their windshields out of, and it is literally bulletproof.

Cook: “These will be perfectly visible but protected from rocks and flying limbs and stuff like that.”

Planning the interior renovation

As the exterior restoration nears completion, the restoration committee is expected to meet in the next couple of weeks to begin planning the interior restoration.

Rogersville building inspector Steve Nelson, who spearheads historic preservation in the city, told the Times News on Wednesday that the committee will decide what it wants the interior to look like, acquire an architectural plan and then apply for grant funding to pay for the restoration.

A previous effort to restore St. Marks for use as a community center lost momentum in 2008 when the project’s champion, longtime teacher and school board member Ella Jo Bradley, passed away.

Bradley’s vision for the facility was to transform it into a community center for children to practice the arts. In 2015, the school board approved a 99-year lease to the restoration committee to use the church for that purpose.