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Old glass made new again-Greensburg man restoring stained glass ceiling

Pittsburgh Post GazetteThursday, June 07, 2007
By Karamagi Rujumba,
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Terry Bengel has always been fascinated by light. As a young boy, he often wandered the train tracks of his native Greensburg, picking up glittering shards of glass.

The way light filtered through glass enchanted him enough to pursue a career designing, building and restoring stained glass panels.

Mr. Bengel, 57, who over 38 years has fitted stained glass windows in churches and schools all over Western Pennsylvania, is restoring the stained glass panel ceiling that once covered the atrium ceiling of the Fayette County courthouse in Uniontown.

But unlike many of the projects he has worked on since he opened the Greensburg-based Terry Bengel Stained Glass Studio in 1976, he is restoring a stained glass frame without any reference to what the arrangement once looked like.

That is because the stained glass panel ceiling, which was designed and installed in the 1890s, was taken down and put in storage in 1914.

Since then, the 20 panels, three of which were damaged in storage, were not touched and were considered useless until Fayette County officials approached Mr. Bengel last year, hoping he could restore them.

Mr. Bengel, who said that the stained glass panels were removed from the courthouse ceiling because of a leak in the building’s skylight, represented the Beaux Arts style of the 1890s when they were installed.

“It’s what we call a carpet window because it resembles the layout of an oriental rug,” he said.

“When I first took a look at the panels, they were completely covered in coal soot,” Mr. Bengel recalled. ” I couldn’t even see their color or patterns.”

And so his first step was to clean the panels thoroughly and photograph them. Then he used a computer program to re-create an image of what the original ceiling might have looked like.

To rebuild the three destroyed panels, Mr. Bengel traced all the windows that were intact to extract the design of the windows that had to be reproduced.

“I was able to trace the good stuff to a full-sized drawing that I could reverse their mirror image and then re-create the images of the destroyed pieces,” he said.

But re-creating the design wasn’t as hard as re-creating some of the original paint and color schemes.

“Those enamel colors are very hard to re-create because they are a powder form that has to be ground thoroughly and then mixed with water, which evaporates,” he said. “The whole thing is very time consuming.”

Mr. Bengel expects to have the reconstruction project completed next week.

“The installation is very simple,” he said. “The panels will simply be fit into place in the atrium.”

(Karamagi Rujumba can be reached at or 412-263-1719 )

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