When I restore a broken piece of painted glass – restore it: so I mean when I “re-paint” it, not glue it, which I call “conservation” – there’s a big mistake I almost always make.
I say “almost”. Really though I should say “a mistake I always make – and then, just in time, I catch myself, start again, and do things properly”, thank goodness.
I want to tell you more. I want to – confess. But not just because my full confession may help you. (I can’t pretend I’m quite so selfless.) No, if I’m honest with myself, I’m fed up with this mistake I always make. It will be wonderful if, the next time I restore a broken piece of painted glass, I avoid this foolish error and get things right immediately.
So maybe – maybe! – by setting this down before your eyes, I’ll help myself.
A simple re-paint, that’s what I thought
A simple re-paint, a broken head and torso from an ancient English church. But – by the hairs of my sainted badger! – how these fragments troubled me last week.
My chief silliness was: I set myself up in competition with the original glass painter.
So I examined the remaining pieces with great care, and I positively concluded the original had been painted in a single firing. (I mean one firing for the glass paint – the silver stain was a second firing.)
But I ask you now: one original firing or 8 – why does this force me, a 21st-century forger, to do the same?
When is it important to be authentic?
Sometimes, I grant you, it is important to do things in exactly the same way they were originally done.
For instance, when you want to prove how something is possible.
Thus you might attempt to cross the Pacific on a reed boat because you wish to demonstrate it was possible for our distant forebears to have accomplished such a feat.
Yes, I see this.
I see that authenticity sometimes matters.
And, in a very small way, it is probably the “Heyerdahl” instinct which, when I restore, drives me blindly to seek out the true techniques.
But I was kidding myself here, wasn’t I?
Because surely the point about authenticity is, you need to be strict about it: there are no half-measures.
No half-measures, and yet:
- I didn’t subject the glass to a costly chemical analysis so I might re-create it.
- Nor did I analyse the paint and media, then make my own.
- Goodness me, I was even happy to carry on using my electric kiln.
In short: modern glass, modern paint, modern fume-free firing methods.
All the same, like I always do, I jumped to the conclusion I just had “be authentic” and do it all in just one firing. (If you just heard a sound, that was me slapping my forehead in frustration.)
Yet really: no way could I get the same glass as the original, no way could I get the same paint and media as the original, now way could I fire my glass using the same kind of wood. So how can it really matter if I do 1 or 5 firings?
Surely, what matters is: the effect?
And if the effect is that the client is – to put it harshly – duped (meaning: they can’t tell the piece was ever damaged), isn’t that nearly always good enough?
You know what – I’m not going to argue this point. Reason is, I’m a glass painter, not a theologian. I paint well. So I’m not going to lose sleep that I can’t add footnotes and a bibliography to my argument here. The glass I re-paint will last several life-times, and most people won’t know they’re looking at a copy.
I’m glad I caught myself in time. It meant I was quite happy with four firings in the end: two for glass paint, and two for stain.
Yes, yes, inauthentic: I “told a lie in church”.
And next time, thanks to you, thanks to this confession, I won’t even hesitate. I’ll do it straight away. I’ll do whatever deceives the people who use the church for worship and helps them pray in peace. Thank you for curing me of my folly.
P.S. Two other errors are:
It’s easy to be too slavish to the original trace-lines. Of course, some lines matter absolutely: like those lines which cross from one piece of glass to another.
But other lines matter less.
And, in attempting to copy them exactly, there is a big risk that the overall result is stilted.
Like having a dance partner who must always count “1 – 2 – 3, 1 – 2 – 3 …”.
So if the curve of the lips is different, or the angle of the eye-brow, my personal feeling is: it’s best not to worry too much. Far better to paint “to the spirit” rather than “to the letter” (unless lines meet etc.).
2. Just having the fragments, not having the whole section
But what can you do? If I quote to remove the whole section, the cost will escalate. Yet, if I don’t remove the whole section, it’s far harder to be sure your copy will blend in.
My solution when I only have the fragments is: I often paint several versions. Hence the three versions, above. Each one matches the fragments in some ways but not others. I returned to the church with all three versions. On the spot, I then chose the one which – overall – blended in the best.
But I’ll say it again: matching your repainted glass just to fragments (as opposed to the whole window or section) is a madly difficult – impossible – task.
Are there other perils and pitfalls? I’d love to hear from you.