A Lost Art Form

Ohio’s oldest stained glass maker is right here in the Miami Valley

Natasha Baker

It’s not every day a company can celebrate its 180th anniversary. But BeauVerre Riordan Studios in Middletown is doing just that.

Originally founded by William Coulter and Joseph Finagin along the banks of the Ohio River in 1838, the company has a reputation for some of the most prestigious stained glass work all over Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.

According to the company website, BeauVerre Riordan Studios is the oldest documented, continuously operated, stained glass studio in the United States. While it has changed hands and ownership many times in its long history, the company is now located in downtown Middletown in a 24,000-square-foot building completely renovated by Jay and Linda Moorman, the current owners.

“Some people may not consider us artists,” says Linda Moorman. “But they certainly can’t deny there is a craftsmanship to this process that fewer and fewer people know how to do. We got addicted to the beauty and methodism of the practice.”

Having Faith
The Moormans are thankful for a thriving business thanks to church installations and restorations. Offering services for reproduction, on-site repairs and even relocation, BeauVerre Riordan works with fluctuating budgets to ensure church windows are worthy of these great institutions.

When an area church calls for possible restoration, the Moormans do an on-site assessment looking for bulging or sagging panels, broken solder joints, water or light leaks and more to determine the extent of damage. They can then bring the windows back to their former glory saving the church a new installation and money.

If it ain’t broke…

While some parts of the process have certainly changed—the adding of electrical saws, cauterizers and heating elements—much of the process remains the complicated and intricate hands-on process it has been for centuries.

For a new installation, the first step in the process is to meet with clients, be it a church or business or homeowner, to better understand the design they have in mind.

“For homeowners especially we like to meet on site to better determine their personal style, as well as the style and color palette of the home,” says Moorman.
After determining a plan, the BeauVerre team goes to work creating the initial drawings. Once approved, designers build full-size patterns and begin selecting glass.

Each piece is then individually cut based on the design and set in place on a white table. A single installation can have anywhere from four to a thousand pieces of glass. Next begins the tedious process of connecting the pieces together by soldering lead on the front and back of the piece.

In a restoration, the original piece is uninstalled and brought back to the studio. Rubbings of the piece are made. It is soaked in a solution to help remove the lead and then each piece of glass is individually washed with broken pieces replaced. Finally the artwork is reset, leaded and reinstalled.

Moorman says that installations and restorations can take months depending on the size and scope of the project.

Beauty and Craftsmanship
Described in testimonials on their website, their projects “seem alive and appeal to religious feeling and devotion…” and “afford a remarkable brilliancy, transparency, purity and sharpness if finished with a soft, chaste and rich harmony of hues.” 

You can find the brilliant examples of the studio’s work all over the Miami Valley. From the new chapel windows at Altar High School and the restored windows at the University of Dayton chapel to St. John’s Church in Lima and Holy Angels in Sidney plus many, many more.

See for Yourself
BeauVerre Riordan Studios offers tours of its facility, which includes a chance to see its artwork in process and have a lovely bite to eat in its restaurant, Murphy’s Landing Casual Dining. Tours start at $7.50 and can be booked for groups.

You can also learn how to create your own beautiful art in a six-week stained glass class, where you will learn pattern making, cutting, soldering and the glazing of a small panel consisting of 20 pieces or less. The studio also offers other classes in advanced techniques, copper foil, mosaics, lamp making, painting on glass and etching. For more information go to beauverre.net.