Judson Memorial Church
The building of Judson Memorial Church was commissioned in 1888 by Rev. Edward Judson as a memorial to his father, Adoniram Judson, an important Baptist missionary to Burma. With funding from John D. Rockefeller, Sr., Edward Judson hired the eminent architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White to construct the Renaissance-style yellow-brick and terra cotta church with its prominent campanile gracing Washington Square Park. Not only were America's finest architects charged with the building itself, but John La Farge (1835-1910), the country's foremost stained glass artist, was selected to provide 16 stained glass windows, the largest ecclesiastical window commission of his career. They were designed by 1889 and installed between 1892 and 1915, the last window being completed by La Farge's trusted craftsman, Thomas Wright, five years after the artist's death.
In 1990, the church recognized that its stained glass windows were in precarious condition. Broken glass, sagging bars, and vents that wouldn't close were detracting from the windows' beauty, as well as posing a safety threat to occupants and passers-by. In that year, two windows were removed for storage, and in 1992, one small window was restored and five others were taken out and stored, awaiting the day that funding would be available for their restoration.
In 1994, the church was the beneficiary of a bequest that provided almost half of the money required, and at that time, they contracted with Julie Sloan to specify and manage the restoration of all of the windows, not only the seven in storage. Those windows were removed from storage, their crates opened, and the panels carefully examined by Sloan to ascertain their condition. The remaining windows in the building were also carefully studied to discover how and why they had deteriorated. Sloan then wrote a complete condition report, incorporating as much historical documentation as was available in addition to the physical descriptions of the windows' conditions.
In 1991, the building manager of Grace Episcopal Church approached Julie Sloan about doing a condition study of the famous church's 55 stained glass windows. The church, an ornate example of High Gothic Revival architecture and the first by architect James Renwick, contains exquisite examples of English stained glass of the 1880s.
After careful study of the windows individually and as a group, Sloan discovered that the primary source of deterioration was the operable ventilators. These panels are, on average, 5' wide and 4' tall, weigh 80 to 100 pounds apiece, and span the width of each window opening and more than a quarter of its height. Documentary evidence indicated that by the 1930s, these panels no longer closed. The reason was that the bar at the top of the vent, which supports the upper half of the window, had sagged under the combined weight of the upper half of the window and the open vent. The belly in the bar not only prevented closure of the window, but also ensured that the upper half of the window was not supported, exacerbating the sagging. After at least a half century of this condition, glass had broken, support bars had been cruelly strained, and the combination of sagging, age, and weathering had stressed the lead beyond its capacity to function.
Sloan then compiled a complete restoration specification and worked closely with the church to negotiate a contract with the Cummings Stained Glass Studio of North Adams, MA, to complete the project. This studio was selected for its experience with La Farge windows and its past track record on projects of this scale. The windows in storage were taken to the Cummings Studio in early 1996 and are there presently undergoing restoration. Those windows will be reinstalled in the Summer of 1997, at which time the remaining windows will be removed and restored; they are expected to be reinstalled in late 1998.
The restoration of these windows is a complex project requiring not only skill and patience, but experience and excellent organization. The main windows of the space are approximately 5' wide and 15' tall, depicting a saint in an architectural niche. Each window contains roughly 2300 pieces of glass, and is assembled in two to three layers. Restoration includes the replacement of the majority of the lead cames, which are too deteriorated to support the glass. However, in certain areas of fine detail, Sloan has had the original caming preserved and stored to provide future restorers with a glimpse of the work of La Farge's studio, the Decorative Stained Glass Company. Its facilities were one block west of the church. It is important to Sloan that as much original material as possible is retained, so even broken glass is not discarded and replaced, but glued back together. Some glass has been lost, however, due to the poor condition of the windows prior to 1990; in such cases, replacement glass is being carefully matched to the original.
In general, the painted faces and inscriptions are in surprisingly good condition. Where restoration is required, however, new fired paint is applied to clear glass, which is then plated over the original. To the average viewer, the window is restored to its original appearance, while for future restorers, these changes will be completely reversible, should it be desired to return the windows to their pre-restoration state. Equally important to that effort is the documentation that Sloan requires the studio to compile. This includes complete rubbings of each layer. The rubbings are annotated with all conditions found, then microfilmed for ease of storage and archival stability. In addition, each window is fully photographed one panel at a time, before and after restoration. Detail photographs are made of painted pieces and areas of interest or complexity. Finally, each craftsperson employed on the project keeps a daily journal describing the work performed.
Correct the Causes
Sloan's approach to restoration is to correct the causes of the deterioration, in addition to restoring the damage. Therefore, she felt it was absolutely critical to provide the support these windows need to prevent future sagging. The first line of defense in this regard is the sealing of the vents to make them inoperable. The church was faced with a dilemma over this recommendation, since it used the vents to provide air circulation in the sanctuary. Without being able to open the windows, the sanctuary becomes very hot and stuffy in the summer. Sloan provided alternative suggestions for framing the vents, but these were very expensive and intrusive on the fabric of the windows, and the congregation rejected them. Realizing that there was no other reasonable way to save their windows, they ultimately agreed to the sealing of the vents and are presently seeking alternative methods to vent the sanctuary and provide air circulation.
Sealing the vents solved the major problem of these windows. The second serious issue was their protection from the environment. The location of the windows, on the facade of a building on Washington Square Park, subjected them to vandalism, which had in fact taken its toll in the past: a number of pieces of glass were broken by projectiles thrown from the street. In addition, the deterioration of the lead came and some of the glass and paint are direct results of air pollution and acid rain in the metropolitan environment. The windows had been protected in the past by wire screening. This had been attached to the surface of the building, and had rusted badly, becoming very unsightly. Sloan recommended the removal of the screening in favor of clear glass protective windows. Since the windows are not set deeply into the facade of the building, there was insufficient space to set the protective glass outside the stained glass without altering architect Stanford White's original conception of the facade, the preservation of which is just as important as the preservation of the windows. Therefore, Sloan, working closely with the Cummings Studio, recommended moving the stained glass windows 1½" to the interior and setting the protective glazing, which will be laminated tempered glass, in the space originally occupied by the stained glass. In order to support the stained glass, new steel frames will be made and attached to the original wood sash. Within the scale of the windows and the building's interior, this alteration will be virtually invisible.