Family helps churches restore stained glass windows

KIEL — John Abler has been working with various forms of glass art for nearly 40 years. But there’s just something about stained glass windows that never gets old.

“I enjoy seeing the history of it — the way the old craftsmen did things back then,” Alber said. “I never get tired of seeing that. There’s definitely more pressure because of the history involved with the old stained glass windows and making sure everything turns out OK.”

John Abler, co-owner of Abler Art Glass in Kiel, hands a stained glass window to his daughter, Naomi Abler-Schulz, during restoration work at St. Mary Church in Clarks Mills. (Benjamin Wideman | For The Compass)

John and his wife, Bonnie, co-own Abler Art Glass, located at 16205 Little Elkhart Lake Road in Kiel.

In addition to creating hand-blown glass art and various other artistic pieces (including custom-made crosses and baptismal fonts), they work with their daughter, Naomi Abler-Schulz, to restore and repair stained glass windows at churches from Milwaukee to Wausau and throughout northeast Wisconsin.

Recently, they finished removing, restoring and reinstalling four sections of stained glass windows in the sanctuary at St. Mary Church in Clarks Mills. The windows hadn’t been restored since originally installed when the church was constructed in 1873.

The project took John, 64, and Naomi, 44, more than 320 hours to complete, plus several more hours contributed by Bonnie. But all involved say working with stained glass windows is a labor of love.

“From an artistic standpoint, each job is very interesting to see how the artists had a different technique,” said Naomi, who began helping her parents on a regular basis starting in 1990. “I enjoy what I do.”

Since starting their business in 1976, the Ablers have restored and/or repaired stained glass windows at about 50 churches, not to mention residential projects. Their biggest exterior stained glass project was Ss. Peter and Paul Church in Kiel.

Abler said some people might not realize it but the windows essentially look the same as before they are removed — with one big difference.

John Abler and his daughter, Naomi Abler-Schulz, use scaffolding to reach stained glass windows in the sanctuary of St. Mary Church in Clarks Mills. John and his wife, Bonnie, co-own Abler Art Glass of Kiel. Since starting their business, Abler said they have repaired stained glass windows at about 50 churches. (Benjamin Wideman | For The Compass)

“They are cleaner, but to look at any of these windows, if we were to take them out, re-grout them, re-lead them and put them back in, they will look the same, except they will be good for another 100 years. They are structurally sound, which is very important,” said John, who is largely self-taught in the art of stained glass restoration and repair. “The lead keeping the windows together gets very crumbly when they get old, so it is important to restore them before they fall apart.”

That is precisely what prompted members of St. Mary Parish in Clarks Mills to move forward with restoring four sections of stained glass in the church’s sanctuary.

“We had to get that re-firmed up and supported so they would not break,” said Fr. Dick Klingeisen, pastor. He said the parish chose Abler Art Glass for its restoration project because its bid was competitively priced and other parishes were satisfied with Abler’s craftsmanship on previous stained glass projects.

“We eventually plan to do all the stained glass windows on the sides of the church, too,” said Fr. Klingeisen, noting that he is glad the stained glass windows were reinstalled in time for the parish’s 150th anniversary Mass at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 6. Bishop David Ricken will lead that ceremony.

John said the cost of repairing and restoring stained glass depends on the square footage of the windows and the work it takes to remove and reinstall them. He said they also work on exterior storm windows.

Parishes interested in more information can contact Abler Art Glass at (920) 894-7391; [email protected] or visit www.ablerart