When I worked for Willet Hauser as their General Manager a job came in that was very dear to my heart. It was the restoration of the façade window at Pennsylvania Academy of The Arts. I was a student there from 1977 to 1981 and studying there was one of the greatest pleasures of my life. I had no idea that I would someday work in stained glass, let alone have the opportunity to restore this wonderful Frank Furness stained glass window. (But even as a student I remember being irritated by two poorly executed painted replacement pieces in the bottom area of the window!)
I oversaw every aspect of the restoration, onsite during the extraction of the glass sections, in the studio during the restoration and at the reinstallation. It was a joy in so many ways. Every morning during the site work my staff would arrive at seven in the morning. So I arrived at six-thirty so I could spend a quiet half hour with the paintings in the upstairs galleries. During that time I was delighted to see how fine the curation had become! When I was a student the paintings seemed to never change – as though Homer’s "The Fox Hunt" could simply hang nowhere else for eternity. Now the curators are hanging work that’s been in the vaults for ages and the juxtaposition of the work brings new ways to understand the paintings…
But I digress. I am here to talk about stained glass!
The first thing I noticed when preparing to remove the window for the restoration was that the leadlines in the vents halfway up the window seemed oddly clumsy. Not in sync with the elegance of the rest of the window. Late one night I got up and opened a photograph of the Furness in Photoshop and selected the glass in each vent and flipped it upside down. Everything now lined up with the rest of the window! Sometime in the long past, the vents had been removed and when they were reinstalled they had been installed upside down! I showed this to the Academy president, David R. Brigham, and the Academy’s conservation staff and everyone agreed, those vents needed to be righted.
The whole job was full of such discoveries. When dismantling the lower window casements I found odd signs of glass pieces that had been cut down and moved away from their original placement. I was given the name of a gentleman who had worked on the seventies' restoration of the entire building and though he said there had been no work done on the window at that time, he had been told of a much earlier incident in which a storm had blown a tree limb through that window! That made me realize that the workmen who had repaired that damage probably had to repair the window with an imperfect matched glass. In order to avoid an obvious patch in the damaged area they moved some of the original glass to mix in the repair making it appear that the replacement glass was original and dispersed through out the window.
I was working one day at the top of the scaffolding during the reinstallation when I was called down to speak with a photographer Clem Murray from the Inquirer newspaper. He asked if he could take some pictures of us working – they might use it in the Sunday paper in the weekend section or such. I invited him to be our guest.
He was quite intrepid and climbed all over the scaffold with us as we worked and then left wishing us a fine day. The next day, Friday, a reporter, Stephen Salisbury
showed up to talk to me about the job. Afterward he told me there was little chance the story would make the paper but one never knows. We finished up for the day and left about six oclock. I thought no more about it.
Saturday morning I awoke to exclamations coming from my wife’s office. I got up to see what the commotion was about and there on the computer was an image of the front page of the Inquirer with a large picture of me setting the rose window of the Furness window! “Above the fold”, my wife explained, so it's what you see first after the headline!
The restoration came out great. And now every time I go to my old school I go visit the window. It looks the way Mr. Furness meant it to look now.