It took an artist's eye to spot the trouble.
Stephen Wilson was visiting the Louisiana Art & Science Center a few months ago when he noticed the stained glass windows in the auditorium were buckling, in danger of crashing to the floor.
The local stained glass artist is very familiar with those windows because they were designed by his friend, Adalie Brent, the museum's first director for whom the auditorium is named.
The windows' panels had no reinforcement rebars, the steel bars that hold the panels in place and make stained glass strong. Their leaded sections were sagging — badly.
Something had to be done.
"Most people look at stained glass windows two-dimensionally, so they only see the beauty," Wilson said. "We look at them differently. I thought it was important to preserve Adalie's work in the community. She did so much for the arts in Baton Rouge when nothing else was happening."
The museum's windows were one of Brent's first stained glass projects. She would also design windows for St. Joseph's Academy Chapel, the convent chapel of the Sisters of St. Joseph in St. Joseph Cathedral, LSU's Paul M. Hebert Law Center, St. Paul Lutheran Church, the Bishop's Chapel in the Catholic Life Center, Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church and Eglise Assumption in Plattenville.
Brent, who died in 1993, served as LASM's director for 18 years until her retirement in 1981. She oversaw the museum's move from the Old Governor's Mansion on North Boulevard to the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad Co. Depot on the Mississippi River in 1976, when Brent's windows were installed in the newly constructed auditorium.
Inspired by natural elements associated with the nearby Mississippi, Brent's windows are spectacular interpretations of the rising and setting sun, the rain, the stars and moon, the wind and the waterway's flow.
Brent sent her designs to a Dallas firm, which fabricated them to her exact specifications. But there were flaws in her work.
Only a few days after spotting the problems, Wilson got a call from Elizabeth Weinstein, the museum's assistant director for interpretation and chief curator. The museum's administration, she said, wanted him to restore the windows.
Wilson quickly discovered that sagging panes weren't the only problem.
"When we were taking them out, we discovered that they were too large for the space for the windows in the auditorium," Wilson said. "They were just too large and poorly crafted. Adalie was relying on the expertise of someone who didn't have expertise in making windows. But that's not saying I don't appreciate her naive approach, because I do."
The windows were wedged into the openings with at least an inch of each design covered by the walls. That made removal tricky.
Some panes were actually dangling as windows were removed, Wilson said. His chief fabricator, Warren Simmons, was careful to keep the individual panes in place.
Wilson and Simmons transported the windows to Wilson's studio on Laurel Street, where the restoration began.
"Some of the glass came out while we were moving the windows, and we saved those pieces," Wilson said. "We were able to reattach them. We couldn't see the space we had to work with when we were taking them out. I just had to let go and let Warren handle it."
Weeks later, reinforcements in place, the windows were back where they belong.
"Our beautiful stained glass windows by Adalie Brent remind us daily of her legacy, not only her contributions to the museum but also to the community we serve," Weinstein says. "We are fortunate to have someone of such talent, Steve Wilson, here in Baton Rouge who could restore and reinforce the windows so that they can be enjoyed by future generations."