Stained Glass

I crave beauty, particularly the floral variety. The garden's been going through a rough patch for the past year -- neglect, thy name is Eve -- and so I've been looking for something more permanent to bolster my spirits. I found it in an architectural salvage shop -- a section from an old church window, lilies of all hues against a green hillside. I called Patrick at home and told him to get the measuring tape. I was in luck; the window in our breakfast nook was just slightly larger than my find. Now I needed some help in getting this ancient beauty ready to install. Paul Bloomquist of Paul Bloomquist Stained Glass in Rancho Peñasquitos was happy to help. He started by telling me how to determine if my recent acquisition was the real deal -- genuine stained glass. "'Stained glass' is a common term for any type of art glass that is held together by lead strips or copper foil tape that has been soldered together," he said. "However, true stained glass has images or colors painted onto it -- and then the glass is fired. An example would be a church window on which someone had painted the folds of a robe, or the details of a face. There's a special paint that's used, made from ground glass and mixed with a mortar and pestle. You liquefy it using different media, depending on the color. Sometimes, it's brushed on in large swaths, and then sort of dusted off to create shading. I wouldn't call true stained glass a dying art, but it's definitely a limited art. There are only a handful of people in San Diego that do it."

What I had, said Bloomquist, was similar to "most of what you see in North Park homes -- it's called leaded art glass. It's been made into shapes with different colors and textures and striations. All that is imparted into the glass -- the glass is the palette, rather than the paint being the palette. A lot of times, the style of the glass is a reflection of the architectural style of the house. Stained glass had its heyday from the Victorian era through the Great Depression. But in the '30s, it was seen as old fashioned. There wasn't much done in architectural settings until we had a resurgence in the '60s."

Before Bloomquist could install my window, he said, he needed to give it a "once-over, to see if it needs any restoration. I look at the solder joints. If they're breaking, it's a sign that the window is reaching the end of its useful life. It might need to be releaded. In that case, I'll literally disassemble the window -- after documenting the work, of course. I take plenty of photographs. I also make a rubbing, using carbon paper to get a grid of the lead lines. That will serve as my pattern so I can rebuild the window."

Not every window needs that kind of extensive restoration. "Sometimes, an antique window has been stored vertically, and it's started to bow at the bottom. It may just need to come out of its frame and be laid flat, then maybe have stiffeners or brace bars put in. Sometimes, that's enough. Once the window is stable, I reinforce the solder joints. Then I re-glaze or re-putty it. I put a slurry on it, which is a glazing compound; it's like the putty you use to fill holes in walls. That gives the window its final stiffness. Without putty, the window is not waterproof, much less stable."

And generally, the less restoration Bloomquist has to do, the happier he is. "I try to conserve what's old, unless it's really shot or doesn't have any historic value. It's a combination of the customer's budget and what their intention is for the window. Sometimes, it's time to retire it to a nice interior wall. If you have a delicate old piece and you want to keep it as long as possible, you might want to dual- or triple-glaze it. That means putting a piece of protective glass on top of the window -- at least on the outside, and sometimes on both sides, so that the old window is sealed between two pieces of glass." This requires a new frame to hold the additional sheets of glass; Bloomquist contracts with a carpenter for that.

As for the four-inch difference between my window space and the width of the lilies window, Bloomquist said, "I can design an additional border that will add two inches around the perimeter. I'll use complimentary glass. Depending on the style of the house and the window, I can use glass that's been salvaged. I have old glass here, and I have colleagues who keep tremendous stashes of old glass."

Of course, it's easier to fit a small window into a big opening than it is to fit a big window into a small opening. Still, Bloomquist may be able to help. "It's a little tricky, finding a way to modify a window without making it look like a hack job. I can tell pretty quickly when the bottom part of a window has just been cut off because it collapsed. The stained glass wholesaler didn't have the wherewithal, or wasn't going to make enough on the window to fix it, so they just cut off the bottom and made a new frame."

For cleaning, Bloomquist recommended using "a soft cloth with plain water, or mild soapy water, or a little bit of vinegar and water. If you need to use glass cleaner, spray it on the cloth and clean each pane individually. Then burnish the whole thing with an old towel."

Paul Bloomquist's on-site window repairs start at $200 . Restoration prices vary with each piece. Window installation starts at $100 ; price increases depending on the job. New commission work ranges from $100 to $300 a square foot.

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