Restoring Stained Glass Windows by La Farge and other Masters a Labor of Love, Work of Art

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Treasured Stained Glass Windows by John La Farge, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Franz Mayer and Others are Restored to Meticulous Perfection by One of America’s Elite Stained Glass Studios

The Good Knight, by John La Farge. Restored by Salem Stained Glass.

but every piece of weathered, worn, cracked, bulging or broken stained glass has value to someone. And if the decision is in favor of restoration

When Al Priest and Brad Brown arrive at Salem Stained Glass each morning, they wonder (with great curiosity and often considerable awe) who may call that day with a stained glass treasure for them to restore. It may be a small country church whose stained glass windows have fallen to ruin, a large urban church that needs to restore a few dozen century old sanctuary windows, stained glass windows from a municipal building or even a luxury home. Each pane is a treasure to its owners, and their restoration would not be trusted to just anyone.

Occasionally, however, a jewel among treasures comes to light: a priceless work by one of the stained glass masters -- John La Farge, Louis Comfort Tiffany or Franz Mayer, requiring the restorative touch of Priest, Brown and their team of stained glass artisans.

“One day we got a call,” says Priest, “from a collector/art dealer in Independence, Virginia who had purchased a La Farge stained glass window in desperate need of restoration.” John La Farge was an artist of almost Renaissance proportions best known for impressionistic landscapes painted in the open air around Newport, Rhode Island during the 1860s and 70s and also is considered a master of stained glass art. He is said to have invented opalescent glass, although some also credit Tiffany with the innovation. The 5x15 foot La Farge window that the Virginia art dealer had shipped to Salem for restoration was The Good Knight, which depicted a Tuscan soldier in medieval dress. It had been created by La Farge in 1902, well after his landmark stained glass work at Boston’s Trinity Church, and had been gathering dust and neglect for 45 years in a Detroit church basement.

“This restoration proved particularly challenging because of the four levels of delicate glass layering (or “plating”) techniques used by La Farge to create depth and color diversity,” Brown says. “Each section had to be cleaned -- between the pieces -- and reassembled. It was a grimy mess at first.”

But the results were spectacular. For the first time in almost 50 years, La Farge’s composition glowed with its original depth and brilliance. The work’s appraised value is said to have increased from $50,000 to $1.5 million as a direct result of Salem’s restoration work.

The Good Knight was later purchased by Yale University through William Vareika Fine Arts in Newport, Rhode Island, a La Farge specialist that trades in important 18th, 19th, and early 20th century American art. Salem Stained Glass was called upon to move the La Farge masterpiece from Virginia to Newport and then on to New Haven, where Yale is building a new art gallery with a section for their La Farge.    

In 2004, Salem Stained Glass was commissioned to restore a valuable and well-known historic window called Angel At The Tomb, created by the Franz Mayer Studio of Munich, Germany in 1911 and originally installed in St. Andrews Covenant Presbyterian Church in Wilmington, N.C. It was discovered in a storage building almost 90 years later, in dreary condition. There were holes in the glass and pieces missing, but somehow its beauty still shone through. Decades of soot and grime were carefully washed away using conservation detergent. Cracked glass was removed, glued with conservator's epoxy, and reinstalled. Missing pieces were replaced by matching the old glass, painting each panel in the same style, and leading them back in.

The window now is in a private home in Lake Waccamaw, N.C. where it glows with new life and brings great joy to its owner.

When the Pitt County, North Carolina courthouse was moved to its present site in 1774, five stained glass windows with justice themes were set behind the judge’s bench. The panels were scrapped during a 1968 courtroom renovation, although some were rescued by lawyers and eventually ended up in other Greenville buildings. Salem Stained Glass was commissioned to design, create and install their replacements. “We didn’t want anyone else to do the work,” Pitt County superior judge Russell Duke declared after reading an article about Salem in Our State magazine.

“Derek McCuiston, Salem’s lead artist, drew exactly what the judge wanted,” Priest says, “including the Lady of Justice who appears on the Seal of the North Carolina Supreme Court and the Great Seals of both the state and the United States of America. Derek does a great job drawing people, so our client was pleased.”

“Even the jurors remark on our windows,” says Judge Duke.

“Do good work once and you’ll find yourself doing it over and over again,” goes an old saying. And that seems to exemplify the work of Salem Stained Glass, where one success breeds another. One of their current projects is restoring 32 church sanctuary windows in Newberry, S.C.’s Central Methodist Church, which were designed and installed by the Von Grichten Studio in 1901.

Priest says that when deciding whether to restore your own stained glass treasure, each window’s history and value should be evaluated first. Not every stained glass window has historical value, “but every piece of weathered, worn, cracked, bulging or broken stained glass has value to someone. And if the decision is in favor of restoration,” Priest adds, "Salem Stained Glass will be pleased to provide a detailed quote and restoration timetable, including a description of the steps required to return damaged or aged windows to their original condition.”


Al Priest,
President, Salem Stained Glass


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