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Enduring beauty: Restoration work begins on Tiffany window at First Churches

  • Jared Cantwell, and Chad Gumlaw, both employees of Stained Glass Resources Inc out of Hampden Ma, prepare the Tiffany window at First Churches in Northampton so it can be removed for restoration. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jared Cantwell, an employees of Stained Glass Resources Inc out of Hampden Ma, loosens molding around the Tiffany window at First Churches in Northampton so it can be removed for restoration. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jared Cantwell works with other employees of Stained Glass Resources Inc out of Hampden Ma, to lower the Tiffany window at First Churches in Northampton so it can be restored. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jared Cantwell and Chad Gumlaw, both employees of Stained Glass Resources Inc., of Hampden, prepare the Tiffany window at First Churches in Northampton so it can be removed for restoration. Below, Wade Webb, a site foreman, stabilizes the upper panel of the window after its removal. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jared Cantwell, and Chad Gumlaw, both employees of Stained Glass Resources Inc out of Hampden Ma, prepare the Tiffany window at First Churches in Northampton so it can be removed for restoration. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Chad Gumlaw, an employees of Stained Glass Resources Inc out of Hampden Ma, prepares the Tiffany window at First Churches in Northampton so it can be removed for restoration. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Wade Webb, a site Foreman with Stained Glass Resources Inc out of Hampden Ma, stabilizes the upper panel of the Tiffany window after it had been removed at First Churches in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Jared Cantwell and Chad Gumlaw, both employees of Stained Glass Resources Inc., of Hampden, lower the upper panel of the Tiffany window to Wade Webb, left, and Joey Discawicz at First Churches in Northampton. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Wade Webb, a site Foreman with Stained Glass Resources Inc out of Hampden Ma, stabilizes the upper panel of the Tiffany window after it had been removed at First Churches in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Wade Webb and Joey Discawicz, both employees of Stained Glass Resources Inc out of Hampden Ma, stabilizes the upper panel of the Tiffany window after it had been removed at First Churches in Northampton. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROL LOLLIS



@ecutts_HG
Saturday, May 20, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — Voices of worship and community were replaced by a completely different sound last week as the storied Tiffany “River of Life” window was removed from First Churches.

The sound of falling putty, akin to rain falling on a tin roof, signaled the first steps in restoration work for the more than a century-old stained glass windows.

Armed with Community Preservation Act funds from the city and the National Daughters of the American Revolution, First Churches hired Stained Glass Resources Inc., of Hampden, to complete the task.

With deep greens, blues, magentas and indigos, the window depicts a river sweeping from a background of rolling hills down into a foreground of lily pads.

“It really is pretty spectacular,” the Rev. Todd Weir said. “In December, when the sun gets really low on the horizon, the sun can really make its way to the bottom of the window. Sometimes ... you can almost see the water flow.”

“It’s just kind of a stunning effect to see how they’ve done the layered glass,” Weir continued.

Restoring the window wasn’t the first option church leaders considered. In 2014, church officials wanted to sell the window to pay down debt following a $2.2 million repair and renovation. But the state Historical Commission denied that request. Knowing that the windows needed care, the church then applied for funds to restore both the Tiffany window and the rose window that looks out onto Main Street.

The church received up to $213,000 in CPA funds and $7,370 from the National DAR.

“I know that at the church we are incredibly grateful to both the Community Preservation Committee, which really comes from the citizens of Northampton, and the DAR for recognizing that our building has this historic importance and aesthetic importance,” said Margaret Riddle, secretary of the church’s board of trustees. “It is something that is cherished by the community. That is why they are willing to help us out in this situation.”

Removing the approximately 37 panels between the two windows at times seemed like a finely choreographed ballet.

“You can’t really rush it,” said Wade Webb, foreman for Stained Glass Resources Inc. “I try to not be in a hurry. We’re not sweating it too much. We’re just calm and relaxed, as much as we can, because once you start being tense … you start to rush and things go bad and we don’t want that.”

Before the windows could even be removed, Webb and his crew first had to document the windows in their entirety. That means taking pictures of the whole window and sections and making note of previous work.

Standing atop scaffolding inside of the church, the men have to carefully chip away old putty and then lift 80 to 100 pounds of glass and lead out of the window’s sash. Carefully handing the panel down the scaffolding, the men work in pairs to get the panel safely to the floor.

The panel then gets securely packed, placed on the truck and brought back to the workshop.

From there, it will be totally disassembled, repaired and rebuilt with new foil and lead.

Sitting amongst the church pews Thursday morning and looking at the Tiffany window, Webb called it a “complicated piece of art.”

“It’s a three dimensional sculpture type window,” Webb said. “That is how Tiffanys are built.”

While the windows are being worked on, plywood boards have been put up in their place. The windows are expected to return in October and a ceremony in their honor will likely be planned, according to Riddle.

At that time, parishioners and community members will have another century to admire their beauty. Catching the Tiffany window in its full glory is a special occasion because the window only gets full light at certain times.

“It’s kind of special. You don’t get to see it everyday,” Weir said. “It’s not every time you walk into the church. You have to be there at the right time — see it and appreciate it. It is a nice thing.”

Emily Cutts can be reached at ecutts@gazettenet.com.