Topics: Alumni, College of Architecture and Planning
June 18, 2015
Jules and Terry Mominee, both graduates of the College of Architecture and Planning, operate Mominee Studios Inc. in Evansville. The business designs and restores stained glass in historic buildings.
The Revolutionary War had not begun, when ancestors of Jules Mominee followed the fur trade to Vincennes, Indiana. Commerce, education and the freedom to practice their faith led family members to stake a claim and carve out a life, right there along the Wabash River.
Nearly 300 years later, via an architectural wormhole that's storybook perfect, Mominee MA '79 MSHP '14, and his wife and business partner, Terry, MA '79, are restoring stained glass windows at the church his ancestors helped build.
"It occurred to me that my family helped pay to have the windows at The Old Cathedral made," says Mominee, as he watched over a group of Ball State's historic preservation graduate students perform a window repair exercise. "It makes it my favorite work ... for now."
Forgive Mominee his inability to declare devotion to just one pet project. In his 36-year career, he's had enviable, unfettered access to hidden corners and out-of-the-way crevices typically reserved for spirits and song. At any given time, he's got more work than his Evansville-based business, Mominee Studios Inc., can handle.
So Mominee is on a mission, sharing the gospel of preservation with young people, like those in the College of Architecture and Planning, willing to consider following him into a career that offers immense satisfaction for those who can commit to the detail-intense work. It's a message he is compelled to spread.
"Having professionals who are alums show us some of the fields and professions we could consider after graduation is great. ... Seeing the Mominees' impressive careers is inspiring. It's fantastic to get to interact with them."
— Susan Leigh Smith,
student in architecture and historic preservation master's degree programs
"My mentor was an old Dutch gentleman who said, 'You can't know what you don’t know,'" Mominee says. "When we restore glass, we're not doing it just for the people who are here now. We're doing it for people who aren't here yet... who won't know what they might have missed. This is a great profession and a great opportunity to leave a legacy."
Terry Mominee, who specializes in restoring painted glass, says the nature of the work, which can often include months-long preparations and a need to assist clients in chasing grant dollars or in fundraising, isn't what most young artists today want to pursue.
"People with these specialized skills are becoming more and more difficult to find," she says. "To preserve those skills, you have to work to preserve them, and that's why we're here."
The couple spent a recent afternoon with a group of historic preservation students, describing in detail the type of work needed and for whom. Clients include everyone from committees preserving frontier-era church buildings, to government entities restoring courthouses and other civic buildings, and even private homeowners who've decided having a fixer-upper isn't quite as romantic as they perhaps first imagined.
And while preservationists need to be skilled using 12th-century technology—chisels, knives and hammers—modern, computerized modeling programs are critical as they allow an artist to recreate what may be practically impossible to see.
"To be able to recreate stained glass patterns is especially helpful when working with damaged windows," Jules says.
And the technology helps to advance today's aesthetic.
"How much poorer would we be if we didn't have history to inspire us?" Terry says.
Mary Ann Heidemann, director of the historic preservation graduate program, says alumni like the Mominees offer professional insight that is invaluable.
"They are the first to say, 'You can do this. Here's how,'" Heidemann says. "What great role models."
That personal connection was important for students including Susan Leigh Smith, who is working on dual master's degrees in architecture and historic preservation.
Ball State's master of science in historic preservation offers two paths for students with or without experience.
"Having professionals who are alums show us some of the fields and professions we could consider after graduation is great," Smith says. "I'm hoping to work as a preservationist and adaptive reuse specialist. Seeing the Mominees' impressive careers is inspiring. It's fantastic to get to interact with them."