This past week several lucky members of the First Church team received a behind the scenes look at where and how the rose window is being restored. Last Wednesday, Yvonne, Sam, Elena, and I drove up to the valley meet Mike Oades at his studio in Chatsworth. He greeted us in a room with a large central table covered in tracings of window designs.
These drawings, he explained, are used to help identify how the windows differ from one another. Despite being planned off of the same template, the stained glass windows are made by hand and set into wood frames that warped uniquely depending on their placement. The results are usually no more than 1/8-1/4” which might not seem like a lot but any tiny gap allows entrance to damaging elements such as rain and other pollutants.
In addition, our windows were not made according to ‘spec.’ Stained glass windows should have an exterior leading that acts as a frame to hold all of the pieces together. In our case there is little to no exterior leading and the unprotected glass sat between the wood and terracotta. Mike is adding the exterior leading so that in the future the panes will be better protected but the 3/8” displacement from the new leading has to be taken into account to re-center the designs for re-installation.
Once the design is outlined, the panels are moved to the other portion of his studio where all of the ‘dirty’ work happens. The windows are first left to soak in a water bath for 24-48 hours. This allows most of the grime to wash off and helps soften the leading. After this process is complete the windows are removed from their baths and the leading is removed by hand to separate the pieces. The leading in our windows is so soft from age that even without soaking it can be peeled up in most places with a pinkie finger.
The broken panes are saved and used to make patterns for new replacement pieces. Unlike many other types of artistic media, glass manufacturing has not changed much in the past 120 years so the same exact colors are still available. What has changed is our ability to manipulate and maintain exact temperatures which effects how well the stains adhere to the glass.
The cleaned non-broken pieces are first re-fired to make sure that any original stain that was not properly fired originally will be well adhered before restoration. The colors then get freshened up with new paint and re-fired. I expected huge kilns but instead found two Easy-Bake Oven look a likes, which makes sense because the pieces are re-fired while separated, not put together.
After the glass is repainted and fired several times, the pieces are laid out together like a jigsaw puzzle to be re-leaded. I was hoping the leading would come out of a machine like squeezy cheese (his assistant jumped in laughing, ‘I wish!’) but not such luck. Mike cuts the leading, bends it by hand to fit the curve of the glass shapes, and solders it back together.
Here is a finished teardrop that will be on view as a contrast soon!