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Detroit Lakes' First Lutheran Church finishes first phase of stained glass project

Each pane had to be carefully locked into place before the next section was lifted into place. (Vicki Gerdes/DL Newspapers)1 / 3
Artist Doug Fliss puts the screws to the frame on one of the panes, locking it in place. (Vicki Gerdes/DL Newspapers)2 / 3
These three panes form the bottom of the new stained glass window in the narthex of Detroit Lakes' First Lutheran Church. (Vicki Gerdes/DL Newspapers)3 / 3

Passersby and members of the congregation at First Lutheran Church in Detroit Lakes may have noticed something a little different about the large window above the church's east entrance this past week.

On Tuesday, Aug. 4, the first phase of a two-part project to install a large stained glass window above the entrance was completed.

It's the culmination of nearly two years of work by Detroit Lakes artist and designer Douglas J. Fliss, who first broached the subject of installing a new stained glass window in the church's narthex with First Lutheran's pastoral leadership approximately 11 months ago.

They agreed to the idea, and an art committee was formed to begin the process of raising funds for the new window.

"The window is being funded entirely through (donations from) members of the congregation," Fliss said.

Fliss began collaborating with Stacey Asp, owner of Liturgical Art & Design in Harwood, N.D., on the window's design, which is centered around the biblical theme, "Called to Reflect the Light."

The design integrates the biblical imagery of John 8:12 -- "Then Jesus spoke to them, saying, 'I am the light of the world; he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life" -- with images from the lives and livelihood of residents of the Detroit Lakes area.

"We are a tourism-based community, and so to portray the events that involve the residents, permanent and seasonal, seemed to be a wonderful way to share God's message and speak to everyone," Fliss explained. "These windows are very lively and energetic, with many of the activities and facets of life in Detroit Lakes."

First came the pencil drawing, then the black and white line art to which colors would be added.

The existing windows were also carefully measured so that the correct angles, sight lines and shapes were used in the watercolor rendering of the final design.

Once the design was finalized in November 2008, Fliss and Asp began working on a full size paper pattern from which the pieces of glass would be cut to fit the design of the window.

"It's a multi-step process," Fliss said.

At the same time, they had to estimate how many square feet of each glass color was needed to complete the design.

Once funding had been obtained for the three large panels that comprise the bottom of the window's design, glass was ordered from three different manufacturers -- Kokomo, Bullseye and Yougiogheny.

Lead came, zinc rebar and soldering materials also had to be ordered in sufficient quantities to complete the lower half of the window.

"Then, we waited for all the supplies to come in," Fliss said.

Michael Orchard and Ron Brauckmuller of Orchard Studio in Fargo were brought in to assist with the fabrication process.

Cutting the glass is a painstaking process in itself, Fliss said. Then the pieces have to be fit together, with metal in between each piece to hold them all together.

Each piece of glass is marked with a number that matches the corresponding number on the paper pattern.

"We mark the flow lines (in the glass pattern) so they match," Fliss said. "We try to make the patterns of (each piece of) glass flow into each other."

Once all the glass pieces are cut, the artists start putting the pieces together, "kind of like a jigsaw puzzle," said Fliss. "We use horseshoe nails to hold the pieces together while we're doing the lead (in between each piece)."

Once the lead framework is placed around and between all the different pieces of glass, "we start soldering the joints together," Fliss said.

It's a two step process: once the soldering is done on one side of the window panel, it has to be flipped over and the process repeated on the other side.

Then, when the soldering is done, a cement-like grout made of whiting, plaster of paris, lamp black/charcoal and linseed oil is mixed together and worked into the spaces between the glass and the lead -- also on both sides of the panel.

"You do one side, let it dry, then do the other side," Fliss said.

When the grout has hardened, it becomes stiff, making the window into a single unit instead of several pieces of glass spliced together, Fliss explained.

Once the grout on both sides is completely dry, the window is given a final polish to get rid of all traces of the pattern numbering, grout, fingerprints and anything else that might mar the finish of the glass.

"We take a buffer and polish both sides of the window -- it really puts a nice shine on the glass, cleans it up and finishes it off," said Fliss.

Then, the window panels are ready to be slid into place. For the first half of the window, six panels will be installed in the lower three sections of the existing window.

"We had to break them into six panels because of the size and weight of the glass," Fliss explained. "If it gets too heavy, gravity will take over."

The second phase of the project, which will be completed once the rest of the funds have been raised, will involve making and installing 12 smaller panels, for a total of 18.

"Five of the panels have been spoken for; seven others are waiting for funding," Fliss said.

Because the second phase will be much higher up on the window, more scaffolding will need to be set up for the installation. It's a complicated process to set up the scaffolding, so they only want to do it once, Fliss explained.

"It would be nice if the panels were fully funded by the end of the summer," Fliss said. "If the funding was there in a month, we could probably have it done by year's end."

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454