Church continues at Central Presbyterian in Tarentum while stained glass project closes |
Valley News Dispatch

Church continues at Central Presbyterian in Tarentum while stained glass project closes

Chuck Biedka
Chuck Biedka | Tribune-Review
Jesus welcoming children is depicted in vibrant color in this large stained glass window in the sanctuary of the Central Presbyterian Church along Allegheny Street in Tarentum. The windows are a century old. Color and details are now easy to see because of a restoration project that is now fixing 40 smaller stained glass windows. The church is paying for the work along with some grants from the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation and Ira Wood Charitable Trust.
Chuck Biedka | Tribune-Review
One of the century-old movable stained glass panels is ready to be installed at the front of Central Presbyterian Church in Tarentum on Thursday, July 11, 2019. Restored stained glass Biblical scenes adorn much larger windows in the sanctuary open in 1913. Pittsburgh Stained Glass Studios is doing the work.
Chuck Biedka | Tribune-Review
Ralph Mills, left, and Brandon Biller, of Pittsburgh Stained Glass Studios, based in the city’s West End, install one of two panels for the last large movable colorful windows at Central Presbyterian Church, Tarentum, on Thursday, July 11, 2019. Since 2014, the company has repaired and restored 12 large windows with Biblical themes in the sanctuary.
Chuck Biedka | Tribune-Review
Member Dave Rankin continues daily work inside the church opened to the public about a century ago. The church provides breakfast and lunch to 20 to 30 people in need each day, holds regular Sunday school and services, and is known for its food bank and clothing distribution program.
Chuck Biedka | Tribune-Review
A restorationist holds a 100-year-old stained glass panel with protective glazing so it can be installed at the front of the Central Presbyterian Church in Tarentum on Thursday, July 11, 2019. Meticulous hand work is done at a Pittsburgh shop to replace missing pieces of glass and remove a century of grime and smoke. Then crews reinstall the glass about four months later.

Restorationist Ralph Mills knows the century-old stained-glass windows at Tarentum’s Central Presbyterian Church.

“I’ve been here from the first, in 2014,” he said about 12 large windows that his Pittsburgh-based specialty company cleaned, repaired, preserved and reinstalled. The windows were new when the church opened in 1913.

Two weeks ago, Mills, who is co-owner of Pittsburgh Stained Glass Studios, was working with windows at an older church in Nashville, Tenn.

Mills said the staff is usually working at two churches across the country and has windows and frames for seven or eight other churches disassembled at the studio’s work benches and labs.

Lewis Comfort Tiffany popularized the U.S. pictorial opalescent glass style — with seven or eight layers — starting in the 1880s.

Central Presbyterian’s windows are in Tiffany’s style but were produced by the Highland Art Glass Co. in Pittsburgh. That company used mostly two-layered, lifelike colors and detail.

But 100 years of pollution and everyday street grime started to dull the beauty. And the chemical nature of almost pure lead started to cause chemical reaction problems not understood when the church doors were opened in a bustling Tarentum. Lead mixed with an alloy, called restoration lead, is used now.

A well-intended decision started to get in the way of seeing the images and colors, church manager Dave Rankin said.

In the 1960s, attaching protective plastic sheeting seemed to be right solution to guard against vandalism. But that caused a problem: the plastic sheets yellowed with age and that obscured the bright colors.

The small but active congregation started to raise money in 1999. It also obtained grants from the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation and the Ira Wood Charitable Trust.

Fifteen years later, the restoration work began.

In the five years since, about a dozen large windows have been repaired and reinstalled in the sanctuary. Last week, the biggest of 40 movable windows — which allows them to swing open of ventilation — were installed at the front of the church.

Meanwhile, the congregation continues to provide breakfast and lunch for at least 20 people. It holds Sunday school and services and hosts a long list of community projects.

The first sanctuary window to be worked on by Stained Glass Studios was about 8 feet wide and 12 feet tall depicting Jesus the Good Shepherd.

Work is under way for the smaller windows.

Still, the work is not complete.

There are two large skylights in the sanctuary, that started to leak in the 1990s. They were capped, again, with plastic.

“We’d like to repair those and bring in more light,” Rankin said.

Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck at 724-226-4711, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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