On sunny afternoons, the light from stained glass windows at Bethany Presbyterian Church bathes the church sanctuary in a multi-hued glow.
That was not the case after the Joplin tornado, which destroyed a number of stained glass windows in the historic church and damaged several others. Blowing glass had pitted the surface of a central window depicting Jesus as the good shepherd, along with two flanking windows on the south side of the church. Other windows were damaged; some shattered, becoming projectiles in the storm.
“The worst of it was on the north side, but there was a lot of damage,” said Doug Gammon, of Nevada, a stained glass artist and owner of Midwestern Stained Glass Studio.
“Some of the windows we were able to repair. On some, we were able to disassemble the windows and re-glaze them,” he said. “We were able to re-use the original glass on some of them. On others, we had to reproduce parts of the windows and get as close as possible to the original colors that dated from the 1920s.”
After repairing and replacing damaged windows in the church at 1930 Virginia Ave., Gammon followed the path of the tornado, installing new stained glass windows in the rebuilt Harmony Heights Baptist Church and the new St. James United Methodist Church.
Stained glass was found in the remains at Pompeii and was used in the first century in Roman palaces. Its use in churches is said to have started in 313 when Constantine first permitted Christians to worship and they began to build churches based on Byzantine models.
The purpose of stained glass has changed over the years, though its significance in churches has remained, Gammon said.
“Pictures in the stained glass told the story for people who couldn’t read,” Gammon said. “So you could be sitting there and hear a Bible story, and then see it too.”
When doing such projects, the artist said his goal is to develop work that complements the church and contributes to the worship experience. Glass used in the designs can include glass to which chemicals are added to make it change color as it hardens from liquid form, or glass that is painted and fired in a kiln, often as many as seven or eight times.
Gammon said glass used for his projects is manufactured in a factory in Kokomo, Ind., which supplies much of the glass used for stained glass projects in the Midwest.
“I design the window to fit the opening, and I blow up the design to that size. Then I make a pattern on thicker paper and lay it on the colored glass, so I can cut each piece,” he said.
Colored glass is joined together with a leading made from a combination of lead and tin, soldered on each side and waterproofed.
“It takes about seven to 10 steps before we have a window to install,” Gammon said. “And for the most part, I’m doing it the same way it was done 100 years ago. It’s certainly the same technique.”
The self-described Nevada farm boy has been a stained glass artist for 42 years. He has completed stained glass projects for more than 500 churches across the U.S., and did restoration work on stained glass windows in the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City.
“I work most often in the Four-State Area, but I’ve worked for churches all over,” he said.
Gammon said he didn’t have a career in mind when he graduated from high school at Walker, which is near Nevada.
“Most everybody graduated and moved to Kansas City,” he said.
He followed that pattern and got a job at Hallmark Cards. He had worked there for awhile, when he was contacted by a family friend.
“He asked me to come see him, and he offered me a job,” Gammon said. “I didn’t know what he did when I went to see him, but he ran a pretty good-sized stained glass studio.”
Gammon said he worked there first as an apprentice, then as a journeyman stained glass artist. He started his own business when he returned to Nevada about five years later.
“I wanted to raise my kids in a small town, and I had to stay in the stained glass business because I didn’t know anything else. I started when I was 21 years old and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
Gammon said he has done many projects in Joplin, including the chapel at Freeman East and other churches, often working with the Joplin-based Goodman Church Builders.
He said he recently completed his largest job — 4,000 square feet of stained glass — for the James River Assembly mega-church near Springfield.