By Katie Scarvey
On Thursday morning last week, a team of six men at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church was working to finish a project begun in April to restore the church’s historic Ascension Window.
Panes of clear glass were propped against the church, destined to be positioned over the stained glass as protective glazing — “kind of like a storm window,” said Charles Woodard, who was working on the project with Guarducci Stained Glass Studio.
The glazing will shield the window — the church’s largest — from hurricane or ice storm damage, as well as vandalism. The transparency of the outer glass allows the detail of the window to be seen from the outside as well as the inside of the church.
A member of St. Luke’s since 1977, Dr. Dick Martin is a member of the stained glass window committee that has shepherded the project.
In 2000, a consultant from New York gave the church the outline of a restoration plan for its stained glass windows.
Work began in earnest several years ago, when fellow window committee members Robert Crum and Don Fortner traveled with Martin to Massachusetts, where Guarducci’s studio was based at the time. His studio is now in Warrenton.
Guarducci showed the committee members a window restoration he had done at a Catholic cathedral in Worcester, along with several other projects. They liked what they saw, and the decision was made to hire Guarducci to restore the chapel windows, which was done last year.
“Everybody agreed they needed to be done first,” Martin says. Despite the fact that the three panels were the church’s newest windows, done in the 1960s, they were in the worst shape.
The English studio that made them used lead that was too soft, which caused them to buckle and bow “like salad bowls,” Guarducci says.
Impressed with the work Guarducci did on the chapel windows, the church then commissioned him to do a bigger project — the Ascension Window.
An unstable, deteriorating frame was causing the glass panels of that window to be pulled apart. As Guarducci examined the panels, he discovered “lead fatigue and failure,” with many cracked lead joints.
Numerous repairs to the window had already been done, leaving about 90 percent of the original glass and lead, Guarducci said.
Starting in April, the team removed the windows and documented everything, taking photographs and doing rubbings to provide a map for reassembling the window.
The original window, done by the Montague Castle Company of New York City, was completed in 1911 during Frank Pierce Milburn’s renovation of St. Luke’s.
The original donors for the five-part window included Archibald Henderson Boyden, Henry Truesdale Trantham and Thomas Benjamin Marsh. Two of the panels were designated as the gift of Walter Steel Blackmer.
Major funding for the restoration came from the Lucille Norvell and Bill Graham families.
After the documentation process, the windows were dismantled, with the old lead came was discarded and replaced with new milled came to duplicate the original profile.
Guarducci and the church agreed that the window should be re-leaded with restoration grade lead, the highest quality available.
“It’s warranted for 98 years,” Guarducci says, “longer than I’ll be around.”
Cracks were repaired with epoxy, since preserving the original glass was a goal.
While Guarducci was working on the panels in his studio, St. Luke’s had hired Alfred Wilson and Butch Hollifield to repair the window frame. They were selected, says former St. Luke’s senior warden Tim Messinger, because of their experience with historic preservation projects.
Waiting to see whether the restored window would fit into the repaired frame was nerve-wracking.
“I was shaking in my boots,” Guarducci says. Fortunately, the windows went back in, with only a few glitches.
The restoration of the window cost about $64,000, a figure that doesn’t include the framing and painting work.
Returned to its former glory, the Ascension Window is awe-inspiring as the morning light hits it. The colors are vivid, and the clarity is breathtaking.
“If you saw what it looked like before and after, as I did, there’s no comparison,” says Messinger.
Guarducci typically has several projects going at any one time. While working on the St. Luke’s window, he was also traveling back and forth to New York, working on the restoration of a historic building with windows by L.C. Tiffany and John LaFarge.
Guarducci’s great grandfather was an artist who created stained glass and mosaic pieces. His grandfather had a stained glass studio in New York, says Guarducci, who began to learn how to work with stained glass as a child. His father was a sculptor and his mother a painter who won a Pulitzer prize, so Guarducci comes by his artistic talent honestly.
He got a scholarship to study medicine in college and stuck with that plan until his final semester at Adelphi University. At that point, he had been supporting himself with his stained glass work and had a studio set up in his apartment.
Increasingly interested in stained glass, he left school with only one semester to go so he could pursue his passion full-time.
His parents were not happy, he says, but he’s never been sorry that he followed his heart. He’s been working with glass full-time for about 37 years.
“There’s something addictive about the field of stained glass,” he says. “You can never learn all there is to learn.”
Guarducci will be back in Salisbury at some point to begin work on the remaining windows at St. Luke’s, which include some of the church’s oldest, dating back to the 1890s.
Contact Katie Scarvey at 704-797-4270 or email@example.com.
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