Protecting Your Decorative Investment

By B. Gunar Gruenke
Published in JANUARY 2009 – Religious Product News

After a devastating fire gutted St. Mary’s Church in Burlington, Wisconsin, Conrad Schmitt Studios was commissioned to restore the damaged and destroyed stained glass windows and the interior decoration. Coincidentally, studio archives revealed that CSS had decorated St. Mary’s in 1920. Much of the damaged interior was from that decorative scheme, including the decorative painting, Stations of the Cross, altars, and murals.

The roof and ceiling of St. Mary’s had been completely destroyed by the fire, but the structure of the vaulted ceiling with ribs and pendants soon was restored. The historic stained glass windows also suffered significant damage. Glass and lead cames were cracked, broken, and melted throughout the stained glass windows.

The restoration of the stained glass windows and the Stations of the Cross was carried out at the well-equipped studio. The plaster work, decorative painting, and gilding within the church were aided by extensive scaffolding. All of the extensive, specialized work was conducted over the course of more than a year.

Conrad Schmitt Studios’ watercolor rendering illustrated how the rebuilding of the church interior could be an opportunity to incorporate the tenets of Vatican II into the traditional interior. The communion rail was eliminated, the sanctuary was brought forward on a thrust predella, and the side altars and murals were removed to reduce distractions from the Altar and the Eucharistic celebration. The Altar of Reservation was retained, but in the function of a reredos and receptacle for the Blessed Sacrament.

Protecting Your Church Treasures

Fires, hurricanes, tornados, floods, and other acts of God wreak havoc on hundreds of churches a year. All too often, the candle (vigil light stands) for petitions or an altar candle is the fire claim culprit. No matter if it is a human error or arson, the evaluation of the claim is monumental.

What is our relic worth? It is built into the altar, which is a permanent fixture attached to the floor. So, is it personal property or part of the building?

For decades, reredos altars, statuary, tabernacles, baptismal fonts, Stations of the Cross, and valuable historic lighting have been walking the tightrope of being insured or not insured. What about the thousands of dollars of chalices in the sacristy? The ostensorium has rare jewels and semi precious stones like jade and emeralds. The murals that once were attached to the wall have been carefully removed, conserved, stretched and installed in frames on the wall to prevent water damage.

Many churches have stores or gift shops within that sell icons, rosaries, statues, and books. So, how do we cover these items? Are they covered under the general umbrella? To avoid gray areas, future “uninsured” claims, and lost treasures, these questions must be answered before the catastrophe occurs.

If the church was recently restored or renovated, the costs of services are a fine place to start.  Most often, though, not much work has been done in decades.  Perhaps new carpet has been installed, or a fresh coat of paint was applied on the large flat field areas, avoiding decorative finishes like stencils and glazed and gilded ornamental plaster.

First, the church should provide an “inventory document,” or list of all attached items that may or may not be considered fixtures. This inventory document should then include a list of all fine art items in the facility that are personal property.  

Both lists should include a written description including materials, size, and methods of assembly or installation. Detail and overall photographs of the items should be included in the report.  

These lists should be compared to corresponding replacement costs. Religious goods supply organizations or specialty church contractors should be given the lists for replacement cost appraisals. Many specialty church contractors will actually perform the entire service of the “inventory documentation” for a modest fee. These master documents should be referenced in and attached to the insurance coverage.  

B. Gunar Gruenke is one of the family owners of Conrad Schmitt Studios, He is also the president of the Stained Glass Association of America.

Protecting Your Decorative Investment (PDF 1.40 Mb)

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