Studio History

Since 1889: The History of the Conrad Schmitt Studios

The Conrad Schmitt Studios Story

For over a century, Conrad Schmitt Studios has advanced a tradition of excellence in artistry and craftsmanship. Concern for the artistic value of a project is paramount. Studio artisans do more than paint walls or assemble windows – they create enduring works of art. Download our CSS brochure for more information.

The Studio was founded in Milwaukee in 1889 by Conrad Schmitt, the son of Bavarian immigrants. The firm remained in the Schmitt family until 1953, at which time it was purchased by long-time employee, Bernard O. Gruenke. Today, the third generation of the Gruenke family owns and operates the company, a reflection of the dedication and longevity which typifies the Conrad Schmitt Studios.

Conrad Schmitt Studios Timeline

The Studio’s roots can be traced to ecclesiastical and decorative art, stained glass, and interior design. Preserving the past through comprehensive investigation, analysis, and documentation is a vital component of the Studio’s business.

Conrad Schmitt Studios has conserved stained glass windows designed by famous artists such as Louis Comfort Tiffany, Thomas O’Shaughnessy, John LaFarge, F.X. Zettler, and Mayer of Munich; and restored theatres designed by architects Rapp & Rapp, John Eberson, C. Howard Crane, and Thomas Lamb, and religious and secular buildings designed by Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, and others.

In addition to conservation and restoration, the Studio has designed and created art glass and interiors for buildings of architectural and historic significance throughout the country and abroad, including basilicas, cathedrals, churches, synagogues, theatres, train stations, hotels, universities, state capitols, and government buildings.

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1867

Conrad Schmitt Jr. is born (1867)

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1889

Conrad Schmitt Studios is founded (1889)

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1909

Studio opens headquarters, Conrad's sons join the studio (1909)

Studio headquarters is at 223 2nd Avenue in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Conrad’s sons Rupert, Edward and Alphonse join the family business.

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1914

Studio relocates (1914)

Studio moves to 1707 Grand Avenue in Milwaukee. WWI causes significant changes to the economy, affecting import tariffs and the availability of labor. In response, the Studio expands its offerings to include furniture, fitments, lighting, and sculpture in addition to decorative painting and stained glass.

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1926

New York Branch office opens (1926)

New York Branch office operates at 11 W. 42nd St. New York City.

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1930

Studio relocates (1930)

Studio moves to 1729 N. Prospect Avenue, Milwaukee.

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1933

Alphonse leaves the Studio, New York Branch closes under economic stress (1933)

Alphonse leaves the Studio to start his own decorating business. Under the economic stress of the Great Depression, the New York Branch office is closed.

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1936

Bernard O. Gruenke joins the Studio (1936)

Bernard O. Gruenke begins work for Conrad Schmitt Studios.

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1940

Conrad Schmitt passes away, Schmitt family takes leadership (1940)

Conrad Schmitt passes away. During his lifetime, Conrad Schmitt Studios completed work at 33 Catholic cathedrals nationwide. Leadership of CSS is assumed by Rupert and Edward Schmitt. Studio moves to 1717 W. Wisconsin Avenue.

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1941-45

Studio employees participate in WWII effort (1941-45)

WWII – many studio employees participate in the war effort, from painting ships to active service overseas. Edward Schmitt passes away in 1945.

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1946

Studio relocates, new suburban churches contribute to growth (1946)

Studio moves to 1325 S. 43rd Street, Milwaukee. Post-war prosperity and the proliferation of new suburban churches contribute to the Studio’s growth.

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1948

Bernard O. Gruenke branches out (1948)

Bernard O. Gruenke branches out on his own, opening the independent church decorating company, Bernard O. Gruenke Studios.

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1950

Bernard O. Gruenke returns to studio (1950)

At the request of Rupert Schmitt, Bernard O. Gruenke returns to Conrad Schmitt Studios,

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1953

Rupert Schmitt passes, Bernard O. Gruenke assumes ownership (1953)

Rupert Schmitt passes away. Bernard O. Gruenke assumes ownership of the Studio. After being inspired by European glass artists, Bernard O. creates the first dalle de verre or “slab glass” window in the United States.

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1957

Bernard E. Gruenke begins formal apprenticeship (1957)

Bernard E. Gruenke begins a formal apprenticeship at the Studio, he is familiar with many aspects of the company and joins his father in experimenting with slab glass and metal sculpture.

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1973

Studio relocates to New Berin (1973)

Studio moves to 2405 S. 162nd St, New Berlin, WI. Bernard O. and Bernard E. patent the Leptat technique for etching glass.

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1975

Recognition of Pabst Theatre restoration (1975)

Restoration of the Pabst Theatre in Milwaukee is later recognized as one of the first major milestones in the movement to preserve America’s historic theatres.

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1981

Bernard E. Gruenke assumes leadership of Studio (1981)

Bernard E. Gruenke assumes leadership of the Studio. Bernard O. remains involved as President Emeritus. Bernard E.’s children, B. Gunar Gruenke and Heidi Gruenke Emery join the Studio, learning various facets of the business. For the next thirty years, three generations of the Gruenke family are actively involved in Studio operations.

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1989

Studio celebrates 100th anniversary (1989)

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2010

Gunar and Heidi assume leadership of the Studio (2010)

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2012

Bernard O. passes away (2012)

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2014

Studio celebrates 125th anniversary (2014)

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2015

Bernard E. Gruneke passes away (2015)

A Special Way of Doing Business

Although Conrad Schmitt Studios is the largest firm of its kind in the country, the Studio succeeds in maintaining a one-on-one relationship with clients. Whether working with a small committee or a multi-national contractor, Conrad Schmitt Studios’ focus remains the same – client satisfaction and artistic integrity. The Studio works with clients every step of the way, from initial consultations regarding design and fundraising issues, through installation and dedication. However, the involvement does not end there. The Studio ensures that its work continues to live up to client expectations and its own high standards.

Talent and Experience

Conrad Schmitt Studios actively seeks out the most highly skilled artisans and craftspeople from the United States and abroad. Many have been trained in the centuries-old traditions of stained glass, decorative painting, sculpture, and mosaic. Teams of decorative artists work on projects across the country, under the direction of experienced foremen. The staff at the New Berlin, Wisconsin Studio works on a wide variety of art and glass projects, including those that have been carefully transported from locations near and far. Conrad Schmitt Studios’ management philosophy focuses on the team concept. All of the departments work together to create the best art possible.

A Wealth of Resources

Conrad Schmitt Studios has one of the largest inventories of glass in the country. The vast collection contains antique, rolled, imported, and original Tiffany Studio’s glass, as well as hand-made glass jewels. This inventory was greatly enhanced by the acquisition of glass from several historic stained glass studios. Studio archives contain comprehensive files on past projects, integrating the latest computer technology with the tradition of age-old craftsmanship.

The layout of the Studio facility was designed to promote utmost efficiency. All production takes place on a single level in an open 110’ X 100’ room with over 2,100 square feet of table top surface and over 3,000 square feet of additional work space in an adjoining area. The floor plan follows the sequence of a properly executed project. On a second level overlooking the production area, the Studio also includes over 5,000 square feet for the professional services team and more than 5,000 square feet for the art and tech center.

A Reputation for Excellence

Conrad Schmitt Studios owes its international reputation to the successful completion of projects of enduring quality and beauty. The Studio has been profiled in national newspapers, magazines, and trade publications and is the recipient of numerous awards, both nationally and internationally. But, even more rewarding is our clients’ satisfaction and the joy that comes from creating lasting beauty.