News & Archives

Aug 19, 2013

by Jeff Rusack, Reporter
August 19, 2013 7:36 PM

Nearly a hundred feet above the floor of the state capitol building's rotunda sits 64, 100 plus year old panes of stained glass. While looking at each one may cause a neck ache, officials in Pierre say it's time to update the windows frames. And that means for the first time in the building's history, whe windows are coming down.


It's a long way down, nearly one hundred feet, and one wrong move, could permanently damage these 104 year old stained glass windows.


The process will take a week for all 64 panes to be slowly lowered from the state capitol's dome.


"Starting today, it was actually getting above and physically handling them and putting them into boxes and winching them down," said Kevin Grabowski, the project manager of the 130 year old stained glass company, Conrad Schmidt Studios.


"They have a very sophisticated winch system and the engineers; they're really like kids with an erector set. They've been really fun to watch," added Dr. Barbara Johnson.  


Sliding the glass down can be like one big game of Operation.


"The lower panels are about 53 inches wide and 79 inches tall. They are really enormous panels to handle at that height and with really minimal access points," said Grabowski.


Once the panels are lowered, researchers can take a closer look and get a glimpse into the past.


"The biggest step in this is documentation. We'll go through and take a lot of photographs, initially. We'll take a lot of notes. We'll do a rubbing of the panels and kind of make a map of the lead lines," described Grabowski.


While bringing down the glass is spectacular enough, there's actually a little bit of a mystery here, they're not quite sure who put the glass up over 100 years ago.


"I've researched the records extensively of the state archive and there are no blue prints for the dome or the glass," stated Dr. Johnson.


A question Dr. Barbara Johnson of the South Dakota Humanities Council thinks she can answer with a closer look.


"I've been able to see some details now that it is on the floor for the first time in 103 years. There are certain features of the glass that may help identify it a little further," added Dr. Johnson.


Certain glass types and even hidden jewels that were used to identify the manufacturer of the stained glass can help answer Johnson's question. 


Right now, Dr. Johnson believes, the glass may have been built by the same company who installed the dome.


One by one, fragile works of art are removed and returned to the rotunda floor, ready for the next step of the refurbishing process.


"The only thing that will go back in, that is there today, is the actual glass. The physical matrix that holds the glass and the reinforcing bars will all be new," said Grabowski.


For a century these panes of glass have watched local lawmakers come and go. Now, it's their turn to leave the capitol.


The windows are expected to be back in the state capitol building's dome by June of 2014.


Tell us about your next Project