Stained Glass - Art at the Glass Surface
Cambridge - Monday 4th and
Tuesday 5th September 2017

Alison Gilchrist
<[email protected]>

article posted 17 May 2017

Alison Gilchrist is a Stained Glass Conservator at Barley Studio, near York, UK. Having previously worked as an academic and colour scientist at the University of Leeds, Alison completed the MA in Stained Glass Conservation and Heritage Management at the University of York in 2010, graduating with Distinction and winning the Nicholas Barker dissertation prize for her work entitled ‘“The tears wept by our windows”: severe paint loss from stained glass windows of the mid-nineteenth century.’ Following a year’s internship at Barley Studio under the ICON-HLF Training Bursaries programme, Alison joined Barley Studio as a conservator in 2011, and gained ICON Accredited Conservator-Restorer (ACR) status in 2015.

Severe paint loss from stained-glass windows: causes and conservation challenges
Alison Gilchrist ACR

Barley Studio, Church Balk, Dunnington, York YO19 5LH

Abstract The loss of painted detail from stained-glass windows, in the most extreme cases rendering figures and meaning illegible, is a relatively common problem especially (though not exclusively) affecting windows of the mid-nineteenth century. Windows suffering from severe paint loss present considerable conservation challenges, both technically and ethically.

This paper examines the chemical and environmental causes of severe paint loss through case study windows made by the John Hardman Company of Birmingham; the former West window of Sherborne Abbey, Dorset (installed 1851 and removed 1997, due to severe paint loss) and the West window of Beverley Minster, East Yorkshire (installed 1859 and 1865, still in situ but with moderate paint loss).

Understanding the causes of paint loss is useful as a basis for the development of appropriate techniques for conservation and restoration. Where painted detail still survives, then environmental protection through the installation of external protective glazing is our best available technique for its future preservation, as is currently being undertaken for a series of windows by CE Kempe at Wakefield Cathedral. Restoration techniques, such as painted backplates or cold paints can help to enhance faded detail, as has been successfully used for Morris Company windows at St Martin on the Hill, Scarborough.

However, if the severity of loss is such that the artistic invention, the narrative and meaning of the imagery can no longer be appreciated (and indeed no satisfactory restoration can be achieved), can we consider the window to have failed, allowing the possibility that it could be removed and replaced? How can such decisions be made and who takes responsibility for them?

One possible framework for approaching this dilemma, based on statements of significance and need, is presented and exemplified through two case studies: the West window of Sherborne Abbey and the East window of St Nicholas’ Church, Dunnington. The statement of significance is based on a balanced assessment of a range of values (historic, evidential, aesthetic and communal), while the statement of need allows for justification of any proposed change through its likely affect on those values. In this way careful research and analysis can create an informed and balanced basis for decision-making, bringing together all of the stakeholders in the window and its surroundings.