Abbey Stained Glass Studio

The Abbey Stained Glass Studios
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Leaded is purely coloured glass joined together with lead.  Stained glass work can be absolutely traditional or completely abstract - we're very much in the traditional mould, but every sort of job we get is a challenge."  The Abbey Stained Glass Studios is responsible for most restorations on the work of artist Harry Clarke RHA (1889-1931).  Ken Ryan is precise about the artist's life, work and the company's involvement.

"Clarke was only 41 when he died but worked at a frenzied pace and built up a group of top quality artists around him, so that even
20 years after his death, his students were producing work of quality in his technique and style.  We restored his Stations of the Cross in Lough Derg (for which Clarke was paid ₤721 in 1929).  They'd become buckled over the years, largely because of the heat of the sun.  Darker colours in stained glass attract more heat than paler ones and the lead becomes pliable when it gets warm; its weight makes the window sag and buckle.  When this happens on a regular basis over 100 years, the pressure causes individual glass pieces to break."
Kevin kelly  
The Studios are responsible too for restoration of the masterpiece east window in St James Church, Dublin 8, sucked out in an accidental explosion in 1987.  An example of the mid-Victorian revival in stained glass, it was fitted in 1859 by the renowned Michael O'Connor studios, whose windows are to be found in Pugin-designed churches around the country.

Ken Ryan explains how the job was done.  "Our guys went down and collected the stained glass in buckets and had to put it together in jigsaw fashion.

Fortunately for all, Dr. Michael Wynne, keeper at the National Gallery at the time, had a record of the original window in slides, which he blew up and which helped us piece it together again. There were voids, of course, and inscriptions missing which Dr. Wynne was able to help us with". 

The company's workforce varies between 15 and 18, eight of whom are craftsmen who assemble the glass - the likes of Willie Malone, the fourth generation of his family to work for the company.  "We do work all round the country and outside too," Ken Ryan says.  "We're currently working for the Augustinians in Hammersmith, London, and doing another job on St Ninian's Church in Scotland.  We do some work in the US also, but nothing like in my father's time, when we did a lot."

Stained glass techniques today are much as they were 100 years ago.  "The glass will last forever if minded," Ken Ryan says, and goes on to talk admiringly about Chartres Cathedral, with its on-site studio where craftsmen and artists carry out periodic restoration.

A tour of Abbey Stained Glass's own studios reveals a 100-year-old window from Carlow Cathedral being put back together by Paddy McLoughlin; he's worked in the studios since he was fourteen-and-a-half and adamantly won't reveal the number of years he's clocked up since then.

Studio foreman Willie Malone, younger, and a fourth generation craftsman, says the work is slow, time consuming and needs patience.  Today's kilns are worked by both gas and electricity to reach temperatures of 600 degrees centigrade.  "In the old days," Ken Ryan says, "guys would have used bellows to make the heat come up."  Some things have changed in the business, but only some.  The traditional, for this stained glass company, is the way forward.

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