News & Archives

Mar 30, 2013

Written by Frank Lee

For Stephen Chabrecek, working on one of the most recognizable, historic and architecturally significant buildings in St. Cloud is just another day.

As part of the crew from Conrad Schmitt Studios Inc. of New Berlin, Wis., the significance of refurbishing the St. Cloud diocese's 82-year-old flagship church, the St. Mary's Cathedral, didn't faze him.

Or if it did, it didn't show.

He's crawled on his knees and at times found himself flat on his back to do the work at St. Mary's Cathedral - sometimes more than 60 feet above the ground.

"We're doing a lot of wood graining, a lot of glazing, gold painting, stencil work," Chabrecek said. "This is creation."

A team of artists at Conrad Schmitt came up with a rendering of the design and color scheme for the interior as part of an $840,000 refurbishing that included replacing the granite tile floor, the refurbishing of pews and the manufacturing of lighter kneelers.

In addition to conservation and restoration, Conrad Schmitt has designed and created art glass and interiors for basilicas, cathedrals, churches, synagogues, theaters, train stations, hotels, universities, state capitols and government buildings.

"You have to consider the lighting coming through the windows, the lighting in the building, and you just got to keep adjusting colors until you get a palette that works," said Chabrecek, who began his stay at the Thrifty Motel about eight weeks ago in order to work on the cathedral.

He chose to stay at the St. Cloud motel because of its "reasonable prices" and "friendly people," he said of the Thrifty Motel, a place where he felt "comfortable."

"We can stay at a high-end motel if we wanted to, but if you find a place that's a little more reasonable, then you have more spending money," Chabrecek said pragmatically.

Chabrecek said he worked, on average, about nine hours a day, five days a week, at the cathedral, including some Saturdays. At times, there were up to six people from the studios at work.

"It's 100 percent a team effort ... and the talented people that I work with on a daily basis," Chabrecek said of Will Kolstad, a decorative artist at Conrad Schmitt Studios.

Conrad Schmitt has conserved stained glass windows designed by artists Louis Comfort Tiffany, Thomas O'Shaughnessy, John LaFarge, F.X. Zettler and Mayer of Munich. It has restored religious and secular buildings designed by Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright and others.

"My whole involvement has been the stencil work in the panels underneath the clerestory windows; it's the windows that are high up on the walls near the ceiling," Kolstad said.

"The building is more Romanesque and perhaps has a little bit of Moorish quality, and so I went with some decorations along those lines."

Kolstad said St. Mary's Cathedral's columns, the rounded windows, the vaulted ceiling and beams were reminiscent of Romanesque architecture.

"It was fun to look around the outside and inside of the building to find elements that led me to the elements that I chose," Kolstad said.

Chabrecek said of St. Cloud, "It's a beautiful town with really beautiful people deserving of a beautiful cathedral. The kindness of the people inspired us." 

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