Church Window Restoration
"Baptism of Christ," Tiffany Studios, 1916, Restored by Bovard Studio, 2000


A Restoration Project by Bovard Studios

Early History of the Congregation

Christ and the Children

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"Christ and the Children" Tiffany Studios, 1916, Restored by Bovard Studio, 2000

The history of St. Luke's United Methodist Church, Dubuque, Iowa, begins more than 170 years ago. When the land known as the "Black Hawk Purchase" was opened to white settlers in June of 1833, wagons streamed into this fifty-mile-wide strip of land west of the Mississippi and north of Missouri. By the end of that year, there was a population of around 500 settlers in this area, and Dubuque, the first village in what would become Iowa, was founded.

Of course, the first building the congregation occupied was nothing like today's St. Luke's. In fact, the first meeting house could better be described as "It be built of hewn logs; 20 x 26 feet in the clear; one story, ten feet high; lower and upper floors; shingled roof; pointed with lime and sand, one batten door; four 20 light and one 12 light windows — cost estimated for completing in good plain style, $255."

Times changed, and Dubuque grew. Six short years later, a log meeting house was no longer adequate for the growing population, and the Centenary Church was built. This new building was 30 x 50 feet, two stories and had a belfry.

The next decade saw even greater growth in the community. By 1849, the growing congregation could no longer be accommodated in the Centenary Church, and plans were begun for the Main Street Church, a building in the Gothic Revival style. It was completed in April of 1853 and served a congregation of approximately approximately 225 members. When the new minister arrived on the east bank of the Mississippi, he hired a boat to carry him, his wife and a small group of people across the river to Dubuque. Unfortunately, night had fallen by the time the boat finished the crossing, and it landed on an island, leaving the Reverend and his party to wade to dry land.

The Main Street Church weathered the Civil War; however, with the religious revival that took place following the War Between the States, the Main Street Church again became too small for its congregation. The people of the church began working to enlarge their building. The renovation work cost $26,000 and was completed late in 1869.

Today's St. Luke's

By 1895, the congregation was again too large to be accommodated by the existing building. Additional land was purchased, and on 8 September 1895, the old Main Street Church was closed. Descriptions from the time report that it was "with many a heartache and many a silent tear we saw the old building demolished, making way for the new."

The new building was designed in the Romanesque style by New York architect George W. Kramer. The trustees decided that the name "Main Street Church" was not in keeping with the 115' x 106' limestone building with its 32-inch-thick foundation walls and its 86-foot tower. The trustees decided to name the new building St. Luke's, in honor of the "Beloved Physician" and in memory of Dr. George M. Staples, whose generosity was instrumental in the building of the new church and who died the Saturday before the closing service that was held in the Main Street Church.

"Job" (detail) Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, 1897, Restored by Bovard Studio, 2000

Christ and the Children

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"The Angel Among the Lilies," Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, 1897, Restored by Bovard Studio, 2000

For 20 months, the congregation was without a building. On 9 May 1897, the new $100,000 building was dedicated. The windows in St. Luke's United Methodist Church came from the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company (simply Tiffany Studios after 1904), and, with the exception of one small window in the nave, every stained glass window in St. Luke's is a Tiffany1.

The first window purchased by the congregation was "The Good Shepherd" window. This window so impressed the church officers and the congregation that subsequent windows were also commissioned from Tiffany.

Today, St. Luke's considers its windows to be one of the greatest treasures of the church. However, these are not the only art treasures of St. Luke's, which also boasts mosaics; a replica of the "Singing Children" frieze in the Cathedral of Florence, Italy; a massive pipe organ; a marble baptismal font; extensive oak woodwork in the nave; and a bell tower with eleven manually operated bells.

From its humble beginnings of fewer than a dozen members in 1833, the church grew to more than 1000 in the late 1950s. However, in the early '60s and in a trend that continues today across the United States, the population began to leave the city for the suburbs, and the congregation's numbers began to decline.

In the late 1990s, the people of St. Luke's realized the need to pre-serve their church's works of art for future generations. However, the congregation was still shrinking, and the church had many ministries, which, of course, needed funding.

Many congregations across America have to deal with the need to fund outreach ministries, pay the cost of day-to-day operations, to offer programs for the members of the congregation, to pay for building upkeep. At best, it is difficult and, often, impossible, for a congregation to successfully fund a restoration of its works of liturgical art. St. Luke's has many works of art.

Nevertheless, the people of St. Luke's faced this challenge like they had faced many before. They realized the importance of their collection and decided to give it the attention it needed. They raised the money, and, in 1997, they undertook a milliondollar restoration of their building and historic treasures of art.

Bovard Studio craftsmen at work on the historic Tiffany windows of St. Luke's United Methodist Church, Dubuque, Iowa. In the top photo are visible (right to left) the "Christ and the Children" window (1916); "The Angel of Victory" window (1897); "The Ascension of Christ" window (1897); "The Good Shepherd" window (1897) and, being reinstalled after restoration, "The Baptism of Christ" window (1916).

Enter Bovard Studio

Christ and the Children

Click to enlarge

"The Ascension of Christ" (detail) Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company, 1897, Restored by Bovard Studio, 2000

When the time came to begin restoration of the Tiffany windows, one of the studios St. Luke's contacted was Bovard Studio of Fairfield, Iowa, an SGAA Accredited Full-Service studio and recipient of eight SGAA Awards of Excellence plus other awards.

The original Bovard Studio was founded in 1971 by Ron Bovard, who was then working as an independent artist and painter. In 1985, Bovard Studio began working in stained glass. The Bovard Studio today occupies a 40,000-square-foot production facility and employs more than 70 artists, craftspeople and staff. The studio completes more than 100 commissions in traditional and contemporary styles per year in churches, government, corporate, and private buildings.

Bovard Studio has restored historic stained glass works by Louis Tiffany, Louis Sullivan, Charles Connick, Frederick Lamb and Xavier Zettler.

"At Bovard Studio, we are proud to carry on the tradition of stained glass art as one of the oldest major art forms in the world, with its profound place in history," said studio founder Ron Bovard. "It's our tradition of excellence."

One hundred years of exposure in a city environment and a choir loft fire had taken their toll on the windows. The Bovard Studio craftsmen worked diligently and carefully, using reversible restoration techniques to return the windows of St. Luke's to the state the congregation enjoyed in the early part of the last century.

Today, the restoration of the treasures of St. Luke's United Methodist church is complete. The church, at 1199 Main Street in Dubuque, welcomes visitors and is eager for others to view the treasures they have so diligently maintained.