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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS: Stained Glass Repair and Restoration

Q.  What is stained glass repair?

A.  Stained glass repair refers to a situation where a piece of glass or a few pieces of glass in a stained glass panel are broken or cracked.  The replacement of these pieces is the main task of stained glass repair.

Q.  What is stained glass restoration?

A. Stained glass restoration is more extensive and could involve more aspects of the art of stained glass.  Here are some additional problems that may call for stained glass restoration:

  • Many pieces of glass are cracked, broken or missing.
  • The lead has deteriorated, separated from the glass, cracked or is missing.
  • The whole stained glass panel has bowed, buckled, or sagged.
  • Areas of stained glass painting have deteriorated and now appear faint, spotty, or are no longer visible.
  • The stained glass putty has become brittle or loose and the resultant voids have caused the stained glass panel to leak.

Q. Can you explain the process of repairing or restoring a stained glass window?

A. In almost all cases the entire stained glass panel has to be removed from the opening and worked on a workbench at the stained glass studio.

Q. Why does the entire stained glass panel or stained glass window have to be removed?

A. The pieces of stained glass are held together by lead strips.  These pieces of lead, also known as lead came, are channels the lead fits into.  They have the profile of the letter 'H'.  In order to access areas that need work, the window must be at least partially disassembled.

Q. How do you keep the church, home or commercial property secure and waterproof while the stained glass window is at the workshop?

A. The most common practice is to fit a piece of clear 1/4" Lauan plywood in the opening.  The plywood is held in place by fasteners and caulked to be waterproof. Occasionally, a client will want to use a piece of colored glass or colored plastic or to paint the plywood for a more pleasing appearance.

Q.  When you take a stained glass window partially or completely apart, how do you remember how to put it back together?

A. We make a rubbing of the stained glass window.

Q. What is a rubbing of a stained glass window and how is it made?

A. We put a piece of paper over the stained glass panel that needs restoration.  We trace all of the lead lines with our fingernails and then rub the top of the lead with the lead weighted end of our lead cutting knife. Then we number all the pieces of glass and the corresponding area of the rubbing.  The rubbing is our pattern for re-assembly. It is also useful to photograph the window before removal.

Q. When you are repairing or restoring a stained glass window, how do you match the glass?

A. When repairing or restoring a stained glass window, sometimes we can find the same glass in our personal inventory.  If not, we may be able to find it at a distributor within driving distance of our stained glass studio.  If that doesn’t work, we can send a sample to a distributor in another state.  If we can’t find a match, we will use the best available substitute with the approval of the client.

Q. When you are doing a stained glass restoration, why can’t you always match the glass?

A. When you are selecting replacement glass for a stained glass restoration, there are a variety of challenges which may arise. Stained glass is made in special stained glass factories.  The colors are generally derived from metallic oxides that are added to the ingredients of clear window glass.  Special mechanical techniques add the artistic lines, striations, and textures.

The stained glass factories that made the glass that needs to be replaced may no longer be in business.  If the factory is still in business, they may no longer make all of the same styles as they did at an earlier date.  Or, if they still make the same glass, according to their catalogue, it may vary in how it looks from batch to batch.

Nevertheless, it has always been possible to do an excellent restoration by being patient and by making a diligent, conscientious effort to find stained glass that is compatible and blends with the original stained glass window even if it is not an exact match.

Q. What is one of your most memorable stained glass restoration projects?

A.  One of our most memorable stained glass restoration projects was at St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Los Angeles.  A 16-foot by 27-foot window that was fabricated in the late 1950s by the famous “Mayer of Munich,” studio was severely damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. The top of the window is 60 feet off the ground. The window was divided into 50 panels, 30 of which were removed, restored, reinforced and re-installed.

There were many challenges to face in matching the stained glass that had to be replaced, but it was very gratifying, artistically, to complete the project and to see the excellent results that were achieved in the service of this magnificent window. The pastor told us that he was very pleased, because he didn’t know that we could match the glass so well.

You can see a picture of the restored stained glass windows at St. Bernadette in our church stained glass gallery. Also, in the church section, you may click on references and you will see a letter from Father Patrick J. Gorman who was the pastor of St. Bernadette at that time.

Ancient Arts Stained Glass Studio provides design, fabrication, installation, repair and restoration services of custom decorative glasswork including stained glass, beveled glass and leaded glass
for churches and other religious institutions, commercial and residential clients. Located in San Pedro, serving Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange County, Southern California.

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