Piety Hill Musings

The ramblings of the 51 year old Rector of St. John's Episcopal Church of Detroit. Piety Hill refers to the old name for our neighborhood. The neighborhood has changed a great deal in the over 150 years we have been on this corner (but not our traditional biblical theology) and it is now known for the neighboring theatres, the professional baseball and football stadiums and new hockey/basketball arena.

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Location: Detroit, Michigan, United States

Monday, April 21, 2008

Window restoration in New York...a visitor to St. John's

A few weeks ago we had a visitor to St. John's, who asked to take some pictures of some of our windows. She was doing a local presentation on "arts and crafts" era stained glass, of which she had read in a book that St. John's has many.

As we were speaking, I realized that her name/face were familiar. She is doing the massive window restoration project at St. Thomas Fifth Avenue in NYC. I listen to their glorious choral services (4 days a week) on the internet, and have known the Rector there since he was in Boston and I worked with him at the St. Michael's Conference in Massachusetts. She was also my wife's parish priest when she lived in Boston (Fr. Andrew Mead).

Anyway - here is an article on the restoration of the window project - $20 Million Dollars!

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/15/arts/design/15stai.html?_r=2&ref=arts&pagewanted=print
A Gigantic Job for Window Fixers
By GLENN COLLINS
After a thousand years artisans are still using muscle, sweat and painstaking craftsmanship to preserve exquisitely painted pieces of colored glass that adorn majestic places of worship.
Now, in the most expensive restoration of stained glass ever undertaken in the United States, conservation is under way on the famous Whitefriars windows of St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. It will require three years and $20 million to renew the splendor of 33 windows, with their 9 million pieces of glass. Nine windows on the north side of the church were removed in January and February and their absence hidden by translucent scrims. Then the workers came in from the cold to toil in nine glass-restoration studios from Massachusetts to California. The largest windows will each require 4,500 worker hours of intricate effort — essentially, the labor of one artisan for two and a half years.
Built in 1914, St. Thomas Church is renowned for its choir school and for recitals on its Ernest M. Skinner pipe organ, as well as for defining events like last year’s funeral for Brooke Astor, who lived to 105.
Yet its painted Gothic Revival windows, which were installed from 1927 to 1974, have never been restored. All but two were made by James Powell & Sons of Whitefriars in London, a revered and now long-shuttered manufacturer that distinctively signed each window with a tiny glass portrait of a white-robed friar.
“It’s a great privilege to be working on this glass,” said Michael W. Padovan, a glass restorer in Frenchtown, N.J. “It may be labor-intensive — but it is a labor of love.”
Five of his artisans are carefully reconstructing the “Goodness Window,” so named for the good deeds done by those depicted on it, including St. Barnabas and Florence Nightingale. It is 32 feet tall by 18 feet wide.
But its goodness seemed decidedly careworn last November when, under a wan sun on a wind-blasted scaffold 50 feet up outside of the church, Phil Seaman took stock of its condition. “This isn’t your everyday construction job,” said Mr. Seaman, a job superintendent for Westerman Construction Company, the site project manager. “These windows are massive. But they are fragile.”
In January workers began removing the windows from the north side of the church, which was designed by the firm of the architect Ralph Adams Cram.
Mr. Seaman’s crews had built nine 30-foot-high plywood construction sheds to provide platforms for the removal and return of the windows. The shed walls were fitted with plexiglass to let light through while keeping heated air within, in the absence of windows.
“As a whole, we have to deal with this as a large construction project,” said Julie L. Sloan, a glass-conservation consultant from North Adams, Mass., who is overseeing the project. “Yet each window is treated as a different artifact — actually, work of art.”
Therefore every window has been digitally documented, and its condition recorded for future restorers and scholars.
Unobstructed glass is basic to the power of an art that relies on the beauty of transmitted light. But the ravages of entropy at St. Thomas and most older churches go well beyond dirt to a systematic failure of the metal holding the glass together. The lead has deteriorated from thermal expansion, corroding in whitish, fuzzy patches that are to lead as rust is to iron. The glass is cracking as well, causing dirty-water leaks that have congealed into a hard crust through the years.
Not to mention sagging: Some windows have bowed out after years of expanding and contracting in the sun.
What is more, in 1982 a protective exterior glazing believed at the time to be useful for energy conservation was installed at St. Thomas, as in hundreds of other churches. But the glazing trapped interior condensation and heat, which accelerated the deterioration of the lead.
The church took care to remain open for services, even as the windows were gradually being removed. In January workers began installing a Potemkin Village of scrims — giant, faux stained-glass window images printed on vinyl. They were hoisted 55 feet above the sanctuary to become translucent replacements for the missing windows.
“We wanted the church to continue to function normally during the entire time of the restoration,” said Max Henderson-Begg, the church’s verger.
Although the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission does not need to approve the restoration since it conserves the existing windows in a landmarked building, the commission does need to approve a transfer of air rights from the church to pay for a host of repairs — including the windows — to the developer of Tower Verre, just down the block at 53 West 53rd Street. The University Club at 1 West 54th Street also seeks to sell its air rights as part of the deal.
The tower, designed by the award-winning French architect Jean Nouvel, has been opposed by neighbors at community board meetings and at a commission hearing for its size and its impact. William H. Wright II, the senior warden, or lay leader, of St. Thomas, said that if the rights transfer were not approved, “we’d have to look at other avenues for funding, including a capital campaign,” adding, “Our windows would literally fall out if we did not do this restoration work.”
However, the windows seemed reluctant to be dislodged in late January. It took three days to release the first one, a 30-footer. The primordial glazing putty was “hard as a rock,” said Ms. Sloan, who has restored windows at West Point and at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. “We had to use chisels to get it out.”
Now, in Mr. Padovan’s workshop, the Jersey Art Stained Glass Studio in Frenchtown, restorers are removing more than 10,000 pieces of glass from their lead frames on the 420-square-foot surface of the “Goodness Window.”
After each piece of glass is photographed to document its condition, artisans make rubbings of all the window panels on acid-free vellum, adding notations about any lead or glass repairs. “With this rubbing,” Mr. Padovan said, “we are speaking to future restorers who will be able to bring the panels back to the condition that was intended by the original artists.”
The colors “are incredibly stable and durable,” Mr. Padovan said of the thick, heavy, lushly hued original glass, known as Norman slab glass.
Not so for “the leads,” the heavy lead channels that hold the pieces of glass in place. They are called cames (rhymes with “games”); new custom-made cames must be hand-bent to fit each piece of glass perfectly.
Research has shown that 20th-century window makers used pure lead that was too soft. More durable lead alloys were used in the Middle Ages. Mr. Padovan’s restoration-quality lead has 2 percent copper, tin and antimony, and is expected to last 100 to 120 years.
Chiseling off the top flange of each of the lead cames — to remove the glass without breaking it — is exacting work. The restorers toil calmly on the third floor of an 1883 red-brick building not far from the Delaware River that was once the meeting hall of a fraternal order, the Society of the Red Men.
Historically, workers were endangered by the toxicity of the lead. These days lead is wetted to prevent lead particles from becoming airborne; exhaust fans remove air from the studio. Mr. Padovan and his crew undergo regular blood tests, “and I’ve been O.K. for 35 years,” said Mr. Padovan, 55, who as a child was an apprentice to his father, Warren.
After the north-side windows are restored and replaced, the workers will attend to the church’s 25-foot rose window to the west, and then to the windows behind the church’s ornately carved 80-foot-high reredos, or decorative screen. Then the scaffolding will be moved to the south, and the windows there will be conserved.
All the glass must be made whole for a day of celebration, on Nov. 21, 2011, the 100th anniversary of the laying of the church’s cornerstone.
“They’re expected to last 100 years,” Mr. Padovan said. “Then it’ll be time for the next restoration.”