When 28-year old Nick Jacobs of Big Rapids, MI began calling Elmhurst, The House of Friendship “home” in late January, he acquired more than 40 adopted grandparents, all eager to get to know the young man who is restoring precious leaded glass windows in the historic Bloch mansion.
“I’ve heard lots of good life stories since I arrived,” the affable bearded Jacobs noted.
Jacobs is studying building preservation and restoration at Belmont College in St. Clairsville. Prior to graduating in May of this year, he must complete a “capstone” project. In 2015, Jacobs and a group of Belmont students and their instructor, Cathy Senter, conducted a summer field lab at Elmhurst, restoring the front door leaded glass panels in the former Bloch mansion, built in 1891. Senter suggested that he undertake restoring the transom above the front door and a window in the mansion back staircase as his capstone project.
Elmhurst Executive Director Jamie Crow enthusiastically agreed, offering room and board for Jacobs during the duration of the project. Jacobs moved in January 28 with a completion date targeting the first of March.
“We are delighted that Nick chose Elmhurst as his project. He is a superb craftsman and takes this project very seriously. And as a plus, our residents enjoy his company,” Crow said. Jacobs is housed in a room on the second floor of the Bloch mansion on the Elmhurst campus. He is welcome at breakfast, lunch, and dinner with the residents, Crow noted.
Jacobs’ journey from Michigan to Belmont College and Wheeling includes an eclectic mix of jobs since his graduation from high school. He started at the bottom rung at a waterpark in Dundee, MI, working his way up to sales and event coordinator, a post he held for three years. He enjoyed the work but decided he would rather work more by himself than in front of the public.
A job at a local shop that serves teas, came next. When the owner opened a bakery adjacent to the tea establishment, Jacobs was able to express his love of baking by moving into a position there, another way in which to work creatively with his hands. Although he is a self-taught baker, he says he was influenced by his grandmother as a youngster. He readily admits to enjoying the food networks’ Cake Wars and other similar shows, amazed at the creativity of the bakers. He worked at the bakery until he realized he and the owner had different visions of the bakery’s future. At about the same time, his father passed away.
Growing up, Nick worked alongside his father, a contractor, mostly as a lackey, he said, laughingly recalling those days. His mother is an artist. Jacobs says elements of both of parents’ talents have influenced him on the journey to discovering his true career path. Although his father “modernized” old buildings, Jacobs says he is all about preserving them.
Nick says the death of his father was the catalyst to make a change and begin a search for a new career in which he could work with his hands. He decided upon Belmont College after reading a blog written by a former student at the college. Jacobs liked what he read about the curriculum at Belmont College. “The blogger documented what was happening in his classes week to week…and it was more affordable than another option,” Jacobs explained.
He first took a course in stained glass and didn’t like it, initially. “It was tedious and I didn’t have the patience at first, and then I realized I had to relax, take my time, rather than just wanting to finish the piece,” he said. Once he realized that such work required slowing down, that it requires a different pace, he was able to establish a new methodology in his work.
“This work has an almost Zen like feeling to it. I’ve found my niche,” he said.
Jacobs has a dedicated spot in a basement area of Elmhurst where his disassembled staircase window pieces are numbered and stacked on a table as he works on the project. He first removed the window glass and metal structure from the wood frame. He made rubbings of the glass panel for his reference. He also made a second rubbing for Elmhurst to maintain in its files for future reference. As he removed the pieces he numbered them. He was delighted to find the original copper patina still lurking under the glass and is planning to restore the piece with to the copper patina.
The final stages in the restoration project include reassembling the glass with new zinc, repairing any chipped glass, or replacing any cracked glass. The window glass is flat while the transom glass is beveled, he explained.
A four-page final report documented with photos of the process will be turned in to his instructor. He has taken more than 100 photos.
After graduation, Jacobs plans to return to Big Rapids and open a stained glass business in unused space in one of the oldest buildings in the town. The building is owned by his partner, Clinton, whose storefront is planned to become a downtown food market this summer. Although his stay at Elmhurst is nearing an end, Jacobs said of the experience, “It is a treat to work in this beautiful building every day. My room is wonderful and the food is great. I try to sit with different people at meals and hear their stories.”
Jacobs especially enjoyed a visit to Henry and Naomi Hupp’s suite where Henry showed off his newest toy, the Amazon Echo that can turn on the television and more. Jacobs was amazed and said that 94-year old Henry, who loves to tinker with old radios, is “more technologically advanced than I am.”
Finally, Jacobs said it was an honor “just to have my hands into something another craftsman did 80 or 100 years ago. I may not be as creative to create such a project, but at least I can do something that can extend its life. I hope to come back in 20 years and look up and see that it is still there, as good as it was, originally.”