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    This article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of Louisville Magazine. 
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    Welcome to the sanctuary. Pews are gone. No preacher in the pulpit, no hymnals. Instead, the stained-glass scripture. God said, “Let there be light,” and it shines through the light box where Donna Baldacci — owner of the former church in downtown New Albany that’s now called Stained Glass Gallery — has a glass Jesus glowing at her fingers. She glows, too, ridding the good shepherd of any mistakes. 

    Part of a $300,000 project, that Jesus. Thirteen windows to mend for a church in Crittenden, Kentucky. The 110-year-old originals were irreparable, structure crumbling — from weather, lost or clumsy birds, all that time with little upkeep. As a liturgical restoration specialist, Baldacci, 51, sees this problem repeatedly. The job out in French Lick, Indiana, where the windows almost bowed to a crash. The basilicas and cathedrals with 155 breaking windows, some in the bell tower 60 feet in the air, her five-person crew scaffolding sides in 10-degree weather. (A job like that can take six years to finish.) Each time, Baldacci saves the old glass, reworks it into the new window (which will last at least 10 decades), same designs as its creator intended, never altering. “That’s bad karma. Bad juju. Straight to hell!” she says, smiling. 

    The studio’s own Victorian-meets-Art-Deco windows, flowers red and yellow and lavender, tower over the 4,000-square-foot floor. So much space, so necessary, for all the large-scale work, plus the gallery (selling stained-glass sun-catchers, mosaic moons, kiln-fired glass rings), the for-sale glass sheets — oceanic, orange swirl, thickly rippled. Baldacci bought the church with her husband Kirk Richmond three years ago. Finally, 27 years after “making a leap off the cliff” into art, she has her own sanctuary, glass everywhere. In the basement, a catacomb of old windows, donated or from torn-down churches. 

    In pews’ place, several workbenches. On one, the original storefront sign for Kiesler’s Police Supply and Ammo in Jeffersonville, being restored to glory. Some of it is already lead-sealed; some of the green glass sits separate, a numbered puzzle waiting to be pieced together. Kirk works at a light box, finishes a “clear opaque” bathroom window. More to be done: the lines of Christmas orders stuck on a board in Baldacci’s “tacky Tiki” office, in an open corner and complete with lawn flamingos and a plastic Tiki man. (Baldacci, originally from Los Angeles, has the beach in her bones.) 

    Baldacci's stained-glass studio is one of the last standing in the Louisville area. "Unfortunately, we're becoming extinct," she says. Even the California studio 15-year-old Baldacci used to pass walking to school, her beginnings, is donezo. Ghost past. And perhaps ghostlier, the future. Baldacci hopes to handcraft till she's 101, keep the business alive. Her sons won't — both tech-y, "unable to draw a stick figure." No one to pass the keys of the kingdom to. Who will light the glass?

     

    Photo by Adam Mescan

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