Church Window Restoration

A restoration project shown in stages  –

Stage 1 – document damage …

Stage 2 – take apart …

Stage 3 – the clean up …

Stage 4 – pattern making

Stage 5 – repairs

Stage 6 – the rebuild

Stage 6 – creating some new complimentary pieces using the patterns made

An art restoration project can be a bit like forensic detective work. As the repairs progress historical information about an art piece may be revealed. Recently an old church stained glass window came into Seaside Studio for repair. It had been “found” in a local yard sale some time ago and was now a part of the Heritage and Archive room in Port Alice overseen by Evelyn Hartford our local history buff and archivist. The window is originally thought to have come from the church which used to stand on the former town site of Port Alice when it surrounded the pulp mill in the early 1900s.

The actual restoration process is a lengthy step by step process. Before beginning any work notes are taken regarding size, materials, extent of damage and other notable features. Some questions are asked regarding any known provenance and history of ownership, display, as well as care and storage. Then the work moves forward rather methodically.

Stage one, the “take down” begins. First the piece is taken apart carefully as with damaged stained glass pieces there is often broken glass involved. Twisted lead came and metal reinforcements which may be rusted or corroded are also common and must be removed. Old lead came and solder, now known to be quite toxic, is removed. A thorough cleaning of the remaining glass pieces then commences which may involve fine steel wool, heavy scrub brushes, lots of hot water and simple dish soap.

Stage two, the “build up” can now happen and so the actual repairs begin. Replacing broken glass pieces can be problematic because older glass is very hard to match and the colours made today do not match the colour palettes of many years ago. And although some contemporary glass manufacturers have been in business and making glass since the 1800s they cannot recreate the antiquing that happens with old glass that has been hanging for decades. In past restorations the studio has been able to replace broken pieces with glass recovered from other vintage pieces found in junk shops and antique stores.

As this particular piece was taken apart it because apparent that several attempts at repair had happened in the past. Old lead came sections were mixed with copper foiled sections. Copper foiling was invented by Tiffany’s studio around the turn of the 1900s. It enabled much finer and more intricate work to be done. It also enabled strengthening reinforcements to be included. But most interestingly, it allowed curved surfaces to be explored and hence we have Tiffany lamps. The originals of which are now worth millions. Interestingly, in this project, an earnest crafter used copper foil inside out trying to glue the pieces back into the original lead came tracks … an intriguing and ingenious effort. Restoration involves trying to maintain the authenticity of a piece while restoring with available materials. This can often present a challenge.

While working on this piece one could feel the presence of past artisans who had cared for it. This restoration project was photographed from start to finish in order to be able to create a record for the future in the form of a picture album. Patterns were also created while the individual pieces were apart in order to allow reproductions to be made in the future. In restoring a legacy we hope to be able to enhance and add to it. The work raises questions, as yet unanswered, when was the piece originally made, by whom and where? Was it part of a set of windows? How was the original work funded? The completed piece will be on display at the biennial Heritage Fair organized by Seaview Elementary School in Port Alice on February 15th 2018, and then in the Heritage Room after that.