Stained Glass Preservation at Saving Places Conference in Denver

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Each February, Colorado Preservation, Inc. holds its Saving Places Conference in Denver, Colorado. This year, the theme was Advancing Preservation Practices and I was able to attend, along with almost 700 others. This conference is the second largest preservation conference in the nation. Attendees range from architects to building owners to historical societies, municipalities and tradespeople. Topics vary greatly in content and format.

After arriving in Denver early Wednesday morning, I was greeted with a mini snowstorm! Colorado’s claim to fame is 300 days of sunshine a year, and that afternoon after the snow subsided was no exception. I spent the sunny afternoon in a hands-on demonstration on the Evaluation, Restoration and Preservation of Stained Glass Windows. The class was three hours long and was taught by Phil Watkins of Watkins Stained Glass Studio in Denver.

Phil is an eighth generation stained glass artist and has been working with stained glass for 59 years. Phil presented his methods for evaluating old stained glass windows—which includes documenting the history as well as all physical aspects and condition of a window. He showed us several different glass types and cames, as well as took us on a tour of the stained glass windows in the Trinity United Methodist Church in downtown Denver. He has worked on many of the windows in that building (and many others in and around Denver). During the session, Phil built a new stained glass window of his own design, showing us each step of the process. He does much of his rehabilitation and restoration work in place, only removing windows and taking them to his shop when absolutely necessary. Doing all his work by hand and with historic tools, Phil truly is a craftsman. 

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Old stained glass windows are built with lead cames, which hold the glass fragments together. Lead is a very malleable metal, great for use in the intricately designed stained glass windows. However, use of this soft material also leads to the windows bowing and buckling. Poorly maintained lead windows often lose their shape because wind and sun cause the lead to expand or because the windows lack support bars. If not badly damaged, the windows can be straightened back to their original position. Straightening stained glass windows requires the repair of any broken solder joints, the adjustment of support bar wires, or the addition of support bars if there were none (or not enough) before. Large windows with bowing problems need a greater degree of rehabilitation, which often requires taking apart the window (after carefully documenting its exact shape and configuration) and re-leading the window. Once re-leaded, support bars can be installed and the window will last for many decades (or even a century) more. 

For more detailed information on stained glass windows contact the Stained Glass Association of America. If you, or someone you know, needs help on researching, evaluating and documenting stained glass windows please contact Preservation Design Works at 612-843-4140. 

Photo credit: Christy Fockler. All photos were taken in the Trinity United Methodist Church in Denver.

PVN StaffCasie Radford