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What’s On the Surface Does Matter: The Conservation of Applied Surface Decoration of Historic Stained Glass Windows

Grieco, Alyssa

A stained glass window is both an architectural building element and an individual work of art. Like architecture, a stained glass window is composed of a variety of materials, mainly glass, lead, and surface decoration, each of which has its own conservation issues. Surface decoration, which includes vitreous glass paint, silver stain, and enamels, is the component of a stained glass window that is sometimes underappreciated. While it may not pose a major threat to the physical stability of the window or the safety of the window’s environment, it is the decoration that defines the windows as works of art, with imagery that holds the window’s history, including a direct view into the traditions, ideals, and beliefs of the people of their time. The conservation of the surface decoration of stained glass windows has never been fully analyzed, and both glazing and conservation professionals are constantly seeking information regarding the history of the materials and techniques used in order to create or restore a stained glass window. With conservation, the methods and techniques used to maintain and conserve the decoration will vary depending on a number of circumstances, including the location of the window, the history and traditions of the people involved, and the tools available to the conservators. As with all conservation fields, there are also ethical considerations to address in order to be sure that the authenticity of each work is maintained. For this history, it is also important to note the past restoration techniques used on these types of decoration, as well as what is being used today. This includes successes and failures, both of which bring essential information to the conservator. Each window brings with it an entirely new
history and set of decoration conservation problems so there are no universal solutions for this field.
Stained glass is a fascinating field because it combines the worlds of art and architecture with a
single object and the surface decoration plays an important role in this. By analyzing the history and
techniques of these three surface decorations, it is possible to not only preserve an underappreciated
element inherent to these historic stained glass windows, but also the overall aesthetic of true works of
art that serve to enhance the buildings in which they reside.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Wheeler, George
Degree
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
September 17, 2014
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