Abbey Stained Glass Studio

The Abbey Stained Glass Studios
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The East Window,
St. James's Church,Dublin 8.

Currently in Ireland there is a re-awakening of interest in the beautiful stained glass which surrounds us. Most of it is part of either Catholic or Church of Ireland churches. These works of art are being cataloged, and their condition is now being monitored.

Recently, one of the large brewing vats in Guiness Brewery exploded accidentally in the early hours of the morning. Thankfully, no one was injured in the blast. However, the brewery is in a high-density section of Dublin close to the city center; the complex covers a large part of old Dublin and is next to St. James Church, which was home to a magnificent stained glass window by one of Ireland's first stained glass artists, Micheal O'Connor.

O'Connor's Studios were in operation from 1830 to 1880; the window for St. James Church was commissioned in 1859. It is an extremely complex five-light window with ten major traceries. The explosion in the Guiness Brewery caused this huge stained glass window to be sucked outward, away from the building. It came crashing down and was smashed beyond recognition.

The first step was to try to recover all of the broken glass. The craftsmen of the Abbey Stained Glass Studios were dispatched to the church grounds, where they collected literally bucketsful of tangled stained glass. The remainder of the 50-foot-high stained glass window, still hanging precariously in situ, was numbered, and these bits and pieces of panels were removed to be taken to the Studios.

Abbey projects - explosion - perished lead stripped away - click to view larger image Abbey projects - explosion - lead joints soldered - click to view larger image Abbey projects - explosion - cement putty forced into lead - click to view larger image 

As the window consisted of panels representing 20 different subjects, no one was exactly sure which panel went where. Luckily, the National Gallery of Ireland had cataloged this window. One of their slides was used to create a three-foot-tall print showing the original window. This gave us the information we needed for the next harrowing stage.

All the many fragments of broken glass had to be laid out and matched with the remnants of the removed panels. Several months of painstaking jigsaw work let us place all of the fragments in our possession. However, there were still missing pieces, and, even of those we had, some were damaged beyond recognition.

We took rubbings of the stained glass to give us a plan for each panel. Then we started to remove the 150-year-old lead. The perished lead, no stronger than paper, easily came away from the glass.

Each piece of glass had to be cleaned dry by rubbing them with wire wool; the old, hardened putty at the edges of the glasses was gently chipped away. Some of the glass had such a thick layer of grime and pollution that they were cleaned with an acid solution.

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