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Winona company has nationwide legacy in stained glass

By David Krotz

Associated Press

WINONA -- The National Cathedral. The United Nations. The New York subway. What do they have in common? Stained glass from a Winona company.

Hauser Art Glass changed its name this summer, but its legacy in stained glass remains in an estimated 20,000 churches and institutions during the last century.

Now operating as Willet Hauser, the Winona company is the largest stained glass studio in the country and has created or restored windows in The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., the Church Center of the United Nations in New York and the Cadet Chapel of the United States Military Academy at West Point.

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"We bring beauty and meaning to people in what we do," said Michael Hauser, the company's president. "We are privileged. We create art that is meaningful for people, and it will be for generations to come."

Though most of its work is ecclesiastical, Willet Hauser is creating stained glass panels for New York's elevated train stations.

Michael's brother and company vice president, James A. Hauser, remembers when his father, James E. Hauser, began the company out of the back of his station wagon in 1946. The 7-year-old sometimes would ride along as his father dropped off two workers to repair church windows at one site and then head down the road to line up the next job.

When the younger Hauser joined the company in 1965, there were more than 25 employees.

Today, at any given time, as many as 30 of Willet Hauser's 70 employees are scattered across the nation repairing or installing stained glass windows. The New York subway project is an example of public art partnerships the company hopes to increase by reaching out to local artists nationwide and offering to help in the proposal process.

Hauser Art Glass acquired Willet Studios of Philadelphia in 1977 and has operated it as a division that emphasizes the design and construction of new windows. Willet Studios, founded in 1898, became known for its traditional window designs that rivaled the work found in the finest European cathedrals.

The Winona studio has emphasized the repair and restoration of existing windows, primarily in churches.

Very few churches can afford to commission new stained glass windows in the style and with the degree of detail of the churches built in the 19th and early 20th centuries, said James A. Hauser. The difference is the cost of labor.

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But Willet Hauser recently completed a $3.5 million window project in Houston, Texas, for the new Saint Martin's Episcopal Church.

"It is probably the largest project, installed all at once, in the last 20 or 25 years," James Hauser said.

Willet Hauser competes nationwide with about six other stained glass studios, said Michael Hauser.

Neither brother can imagine quitting.

"I can't imagine retiring unless health forces me out. I enjoy it," Michael said. "People retire to go do something they like. I'm doing it."

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