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Chagall's 'Windows' get shine back

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Marc Chagall's refurbished "America Windows" will return Nov. 1 at the Art Institute.

Marc Chagall's "America Windows" -- an iconic Art Institute of Chicago work taken off display for five years -- will be returning Nov. 1 as vibrant as when it was originally installed in 1977.

The six-panel stained-glass windows were removed for safekeeping in 2005 before the construction of the Modern Wing. When taking down the windows, museum staff noticed they had accrued a dulling film.

"Because of the Chicago winters and because of their location, there was condensation that had built up in the 30 years the windows had been in place," said Stephanie D'Alessandro, the Gary C. and Frances Comer curator of modern art. "It was not something you would see immediately."

Museum staff reviewed Chagall's techniques in building the windows so they could restore the piece without damaging it. Putty between the glass panes was refilled, and conservator Emily Heye spent years cleaning dirt off the windows with soapy water and cotton swabs.

"One of the challenges was the sheer size of the windows," D'Alessandro said. "I hope and I believe they were restored to the great condition they were when they were brought to the city of Chicago."

The windows -- meant to celebrate the culture and religious freedom in America -- were dedicated to Mayor Richard J. Daley and commemorated the American bicentennial.