Von Gerichten, Theodore

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In 1886 Theodore Von Gerichten, who was born in 1863 in the town of Offenbach, Germany, immigrated to the United States. He became an agent for the Continental Insurance Company settling in Cullman, Alabama. In 1887, his brother Ludwig immigrated from Germany and shortly thereafter went to Cincinnati, Ohio where he worked as an apprentice at the Riordan Stained Glass Studio. In 1891 Ludwig left Cincinnati, moved to Cullman, and started his own stained glass company, naming it Birmingham Art Glass Company. Needing a bookkeeper he convinced his brother Theodore to join him in the business.

Two years later, in November 1893 the Von Gerichten Brothers moved their company to Columbus, Ohio, changing the name to Capital City Art Glass Company. The 1895-96 Columbus City Directory lists the first Columbus address for the company as 428 South High Street and both Von Gerichten brothers were listed with home addresses on Kossuth Street in German Village.

The name Capital City Art Glass Company did not last long. By 1898 the Von Gerichten brothers had once again changed their company's name, this time giving it their own name: The Von Gerichten Art Glass Company.

In 1914 the Von Gerichten brothers opened a studio in Munich, Germany. Theodore spent most of his time in the Columbus studio and Ludwig spent much of his time in the Munich studio.

During the time that the Von Gerichtens were in the art glass business they created approximately 1,800 windows for approximately 850 churches in the United States. Most of those windows were created in the Columbus studio. However, thinking that German workmanship was superior to American workmanship, some churches in the United States specifically requested that their windows be created at the Munich studio to the United States. In addition to having to pay extra for shipping costs there were other negative aspects for churches making this request. One church in Kingston, New York ordered windows from the Munich studio in 1914 but because of World War I and the British blockade, which continued until 1921, they did not receive their windows until late 1921. A church in Shillington, Pennsylvania ordered windows from the Munich studio in 1928 and they barely arrived in time for dedication services.

In actuality there was very little difference in the quality of workmanship in the windows done by the Columbus studio and windows done by the Munich studio. Although each studio had its specialty - the Columbus studio was noted for beautiful painted garments and Munch studio was noted for texture of skin and color - both studios employed German Craftsmen. Former Von Gerichten employee Mary Ann Holtzinger Mclean nearing 100 years old, recalls several of the long time Von Gerichten employees: head designer Jacob Renner and art glass craftsmen Joe Durr and Max Frank. Based on archival records in churches in various areas of the United States it is clear that these German men in the Von Gerichten Columbus studio used many of the same patterns in windows as their counterparts in the Von Gerichten German studio.

When a church expressed an interest in purchasing Von Gerichten stained glass windows a company representative (at one time a man named Walter Reiser) would travel to the church and meet with congregation representatives to discuss window patterns and scenes. Using standard patterns in coordination with unique drawings, a drawing of the proposed window would be created. Back in the Columbus Von Gerichten office, Employee Mary Ann Holtziger Mclean, using a pricing formula, would figure the cost of the window. This pricing formula took into account a number of things including the size of the window and the intricacy of the window; the more tiny pieces, the greater the price.

Once the congregation approved the price work began on the windows. Large sheets of paper were spread on work tables in the studio's second floor work area. Outlines of each piece were drawn on the paper as if it were a large puzzle board. Glass, having been previously purchased from glass manufacturing companies, was cut into pieces, placed as if they were puzzle pieces onto paper, and were then secured into place with pieces of lead called canes.

The Von Gerichten studio purchased the glass they used from several companies, including Blenko Glass Company|Blenko Glass Company in Milton, West Virginia. Blenko does only blown glass and now all glass used by Von Gerichten was blown glass. The sheets of glass that the Von Gerictens used for the stained glass windows in the Gahanna Sanctuary were machine glass and were most likely produced by the Kokokmo City Glass Company in Kokomo, Indiana since that company has verified that they did indeed sell glass to Capital City Art Glass Company in 1895 when the Sanctuary windows were created.

At one time Columbus had 46 churches with Von Gericten windows and more Von Gericten windows are located in central Ohio suburbs such as Gahanna, Westerville, and Canal Winchester. Many Columbus churches still retain their Von Gerichten windows: Central Presbyterian, Bexley Methodist, Shiloh Baptist, St. Leo's Catholic, and Trinity Lutheran to name just a few.

Von Gerichten windows still exist in other buildings that were formerly churches. The former North Congregational Church building] on the Southeast corner of Blake Avenue and East Avenue still retains a few of its Von Gerichten windows. Currently owned by the Columbus Camera Group, the Von Gerichten windows are gradually being sold and replaced with plain glass.

The whereabouts of some Von Gerichten windows are unknown. In the early 1960s the I-70 freeway cut a path through the First German Methodist Episcopal Church location on the northwest corner of 3rd and Livingston. The building was demolished by the Leowendick Construction Company and the church's contract with them gave the company the Von Gerichten windows to sell to their salvage yard. They were sold but no record of the purchase exists. Undoubtedly those windows grave a church sanctuary somewhere.

Although the original building of the Welsh Presbyterian Church still stands at the southeast corner of Long Street and Sixth Street in downtown Columbus, the whereabouts of their Von Gerichten windows are also unknown. Currently occupied by the Faith Mission Family Center and Administrative Offices, the stained glass windows were removed by some past owner and replaced with plain glass.

Other Von Gerichten windows have been completely destroyed. A December 19, 1964, fire destroyed both the building and the Von Gerichten windows of the former 10th Avenue Baptist Church (now University Baptist Church). Fire has also totally destroyed several churches with Von Gerichten windows in other parts of the United States.

While not all 1800 Von Gerichten stained glass windows still exist the majority of the windows, like those in the Gahanna Sanctuary, still grace the buildings in which they were originally installed. Marilyn Miller, a serials cataloging specialist at the Ohio State University Library, is working with the support of the Gahanna Sanctuary Board to contact as many as possible of the 850 churches which at one time contained Von Gerichten windows. Window photos and information from these churches' archives are being studied and compared and similarities and differences are being noted. Eventually the information received from these churches concerning their Von Gerichten windows will be compiled into a book that will take a comprehensive look at the company and the designs in the windows created by the company.

Unfortunately the Von Gerichten Art Glass Studio is no longer in existence, having closed their doors in the late 1930s. Although having been long removed from the Columbus business scene, the Von Gerichten Art Glass Studio will remain in the hearts of the people everywhere as art glass in churches throughout the United States reflect the master craftsmanship that is clearly Von Gerichten.