Bryon Roesselet and Jill Eide from Conrad Schmitt Studios led the regild team for the Golden Dome project. They describe the work as part art, part science, part endurance sport. It's also a passion. Read what inspires their work and what continues to make it rewarding, below. Read more about the regilding process in Staying Gold, by Jessica Sieff.
Historic preservationist / Master gilder
Jill Eide grew up with an appreciation for the preservation of history. Her father restored classic cars.
“I grew up in a garage around car guys,” she said. “The work they vested into the details was so interesting. Beautiful paint jobs on the old cars—gold flames, pinstripes. I think that’s where it all started.”
In watching her father, Eide said she got a “feel of the respect for handiwork, restoration and repairs, and doing it all yourself.”
Her first project was through an apprenticeship, working on a county church over the summer while she was an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. That led to art conservation work at the Wisconsin State Capitol building. When she graduated, her career was already underway.
Eide has 25 years in the trade now. She’s gilded four domes (Notre Dame’s Main Building included) and
worked to preserve historical civic and sacred spaces across the country. Being a woman in the trade is a unique position to be in.
While Eide said that currently Conrad Schmitt has women on crews working across the country, she remembers plenty of projects throughout the course of her career when she was the only woman working alongside all the other trades of men. It’s physically demanding work, she said, “and I was often underestimated.”
“I am usually the lead foreman on projects,” Eide said. “Conrad Schmitt supports me and all the women in the company 100 percent. On some job sites through the years, I’d get pushback—that I don’t have what it takes or the experience. You have to be confident. Soon enough, they see I’m no joke.”
Gilding is “a very old technique,” she said. “It’s rare to know how to do it, and I enjoy spreading a little bling all over the country.
“I take pride in the excitement from the people on campus at Notre Dame,” Eide added. “I take great pride in my work, and the Notre Dame campus has been so honorable to us. It makes the tough trek up those stairs worth it every day.”
Architectural conservator / Senior artist
Bryon Roesselet is no stranger to the Notre Dame campus. His first visit was to Hesburgh Library for restoration of the Word of Life mural. He later took part in additional restoration and fiberglass work on the transepts at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, conducted a survey on the exterior windows, and worked on assessments and restoration of various murals inside the church. He also provided a paint study, mock-ups, and worked on restoration of the original decorative finishes in the Main Building.
Entering the trade in 1989 was a matter of “pure luck,” Roesselet said. He’d been working as an art director for a greenhouse supply company, but after a while he felt restless. “I was at the point where I was like, OK, I’m not challenged at all by this anymore. I’m not learning anything new.”
Roesselet came across an opportunity with Conrad Schmitt Studios. “Once I saw what the studio did,” he said, “I’m like, yeah, I want to do that too.”
“When I started, (I) was like, holy cow, what a great adventure,” he added. “I get to go to all these places I’d never heard of.”
With more than 70,000 hours behind him, Roesselet has more hours in his trade than anyone else in the district council of his union. His work has taken him to the St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay, Wisconsin; the St. Joseph Catholic Church in Topeka, Kansas; multiple state capitols; and even a courthouse in Onida, South Dakota.
“It’s kind of a legacy feel to your career at the end,” he said. “If I were to take my grandkids around to all the places I’ve gone, it would take a year. I’ve worked in 44 states and in Washington, D.C., too. It’s a weird trade—the lack of understanding that so many people have. They’ll walk into a building and it’s beautiful but they don’t really understand what it took to get there.”
Even Roesselet’s parents struggled to understand his work until they had a chance to see it for themselves at the Brown County Courthouse in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
“I’d shown them pictures of what I had done, but until they walked in—to get the scale and the richness of the finishes that were presented to them face to face, compared to a picture,” he said. “You know, a picture’s worth a thousand words, but walking into a space, you get so much more.”
When every job is a room—or a dome—with that kind of view, it’s understandable why, even with the challenges of the work itself, Roesselet keeps coming back for more.
As for Roesselet’s favorite job …
“I always say the next job is my favorite job—because it’s a new adventure.”