Conservation: The Glass Painter’s Nightmare

The Real Glass Painting podcast: episode #3

Conservation is such a big business these days, I’m sure to get into a whole lot of trouble for this.

In my defence …

Oh, but what’s the point? Because if conservators are going to get upset by this (truth being no defence), there’s nothing I can do to sooth their ruffled feathers.

I will just say one thing: why not listen to this podcast, and think how bad we feel about the things we sometimes are required to do?

Play now

Note: the story starts with why I left the City of London where my job was something very different from what I do now.

If you can’t see the audio player, you can listen here.

If you’d like to read a transcript and also listen, please click here.

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7 thoughts on “Conservation: The Glass Painter’s Nightmare

  1. Yes, it is true. In my business, which is primarily conservation/restoration, I have used all the techniques you mention and maybe one or two more. When repairing clear glass in tracery panels set in mortar, I more or less perfected soldering on a vertical surface, too.

    Each project is a distinct challenge and I have learned to price accordingly. That is the difficult part; the price.

    The fascinating part is the almost forensic exploration one goes through once the panel is on the table. The abilities of the glass cutters, the short cuts made, the oddities of the glass making process are all there to be seen.

    Recently, when releading a church window, I found a piece of glass that had an inch-long thread of glass that had created a defect in the rolling process and was still stuck to the glass after a century. I found it when I tried and succeeded in brushing off what I thought was a sliver from another piece of glass. I felt somehow sad about it.

    • It’s true you do uncover some very poignant things. We once conserved a set of Burne-Jones windows. And, while cleaning them, I found – picked out with the tiniest pin – the name of the man who’d actually painted them – ‘G.P. Campfield – 1893’.

      The upshot was, 110 years later, he could now be named and honoured.

  2. One of my pet hates is shabby chic – though I must confess I am always initially drawn to it when I come across any. However once that first wave of interest passes I begin to think of what was – once – probably a really nice piece of vintage furniture – someone has painted over that beautiful wood and then artificially aged it, in an attempt to add value. I guess artificially ageing items must go on in a variety of areas. With shabby chic we are not fooled. There is no attempt to make us believe it is anything other than what it is. However if artificial ageing is used in attempt to make us believe something is not what it is, then is that not fraudulent?

    I live in a Victorian seaside town, so a lot of my glass goes into 19th century houses. I tell my clients that once my glass is installed it should look like it has always been there – it should look like it belongs to the house. There is nothing worse in my opinion than a Victorian Villa with upvc windows and imitation stained glass. Am I therefore also guilty of deception? I just use traditional methods and materials without any particular attempt to artificially age my work. I will however happily use vintage glass, and sometimes will purposely not clean off all paint residue etc. I am not artificially ageing, rather I am not removing all evidence of a real history.

    I have never been asked to artificially age a piece. On the contrary, I more often have to persuade my clients that those blemishes in the glass does not mean the glass is cracked or broken, and that such blemishes are inherent in the materials we use. On very rare occasions I have cracked a piece of my glass when installing it. I know my clients would not be happy with a patch repair in that situation. The glass has to look old, but still in perfect condition.

    I think your story tells us more about your Hollywood client than anything else. She wants people to believe your glass is something that it isn’t. Not happy enough to enjoy the splendour of the glass and your work – she wants to fake a history too. Is that because she’s a writer, or because she lives in Hollywood? It seems the story is more important than the quality of your work.

    • Very interesting reflections, David: thank you. Myself, I’m happy about faking and forgery, otherwise I think restoration would often fail. Again speaking for myself, I don’t see I have a duty to avoid all possibility of deception: that would be too stringent an imperative, because it’s going to happen. (I accept others will think differently; and that’s their right.)

      For me, and I see it’s also the same for you, it matters that the client is happy and also that the finished piece looks right within its setting. If that means taking a hammer to it, I’m fine about that too: I’ve seen the finished pieces, and one big reason they look right is, they’ve been broken and repaired. (Which is not to say it didn’t hurt at the time.)

  3. I found the podcast interesting and agree that breaking a piece that I had just finished to satisfy a customer would be vexing. Having said that, I agree that the customer is right, and if that is what she wanted so be it! I am sure that she compensated you adequately for your time. Sounds like a William Randolph Hurst want-to-be.