Thursday, 22 April 2010

Award For Excellence - Chapel Studios

The next studio I went to was Chapel Studio in Kings Langley which is not very far from London. The Studio was set up by Alfred Fisher and Peter Archer in the 70s and is now run by Bob Holloway a partner in the business. During my time there I was under the instruction of Rachel Helleur and Laura Hobson who took care of me and showed me what to do. This studio does new work but mostly restoration and there was only restoration work being done while I was there. They have nine permanent members of staff and several freelance so there was always plenty going on.

I worked on four main projects, Chapel Panel - restoration of an old tracery as a practise exercise, Face Restoration - the restoration of a shattered face from an unknown window, Face Copy - the replication of the broken face to incorporate into a new modern design, and St Cross - church restoration project where I helped to restore some windows. My experience at Chapel Studio was a good exercise in practising processes I was already familiar with and engaging in new methods of doing the same things. It is always interesting to see how a new studio practice differs from an old one. In this next section of the report I will take you through all that I have worked on breaking it up into separate projects so the information is more manageable. It is worth noting that in reality I was working on them all in tandem but for the purpose of keeping it bite-size I will start will Chapel Panel and work through in the order given above.

Chapel Panel was the working title given to the tracery Rachel had in storage at Chapel Studio. She did not know where it had come from, who made it or exactly how old it was, but it is likely to be Victorian. In the studio they have a collection of pieces just like this that have perhaps been left over from jobs or not wanted back because they are too badly damaged. I was tasked with the job of restoring this panel, however it was still meant to look old, so not restored to former glory but restored to something in between.

The firThe first thing I did was to take two rubbings of the panel using heel ball, over a light box onto tracing paper. One copy was marked 'conservation copy' and this had the cracks marked on. The other was

(Fig 9. Image of Chapel Panel being taken apart and laid out on rubbing)
marked 'glazing copy' and this had the full size height (16 ¾ inches) and full size width (14 ¾ inches). This in itself was a challenge, never having been required to use inches on anything in my entire life, it is no longer even on school curriculum. I'm not sure I wrote them all out properly but nobody at the studio seemed to understand the metric system so I had a bit of a crash course. The lead sizes were also done in inches, the internal lead profile marked on as 3/16 narrowheart flat lead, and the perimeter lead 1/4 narrow heart, cut back to the heart.

Once all of this has been written up I began to take the panel apart and lay out the pieces on the conservation copy. I used a tool that looked just like a wire cutter. This cut through the lead to release the glass. The lead did not have to be conserved so it was thrown straight into the lead bucket. I wore a dust mask and opened the window while doing this. I also sprayed de-ionised water onto the panel to minimise dust. The inhalation of old cement is bad for you because it has lead in it.

After Chapel panel was taken apart I cleaned all of the glass with distilled water, cotton buds and

(Fig 10. Image of Chapel Panel after Cleaning)

paper towel. Some of the paint was quite loose, much of it very faded and some non-existent. First I tried to replace these pieces of glass. I went downstairs and matched the old glass to similar colours in the racks at the studio. I cut this new glass to replace the old. I used paper to draw by eye the ghost impressions of where the paint had been and what it looked like to later replicate.

Once I'd drawn out all the paint lines I tried to match the original paint to test samples the studio had of different paint mixes. I settled on Bistro Brown and a red pigment mixed four to one. I traced the paint lines through the glass and scratched back with a nail. It was then fired to 680C. However when they came out of the kiln, although they looked good, they were too perfect and so didn't go very well with the eroded painted parts which really stood out against them. As this project was purely for me to practise it was decided that we should back plate the old glass in order to conserve it instead of simply replacing it as this was something I'd never done before. I cut the shapes again using clear thin float

(Fig 11. Image of new paintwork made to look aged)
glass. The glass had to match exactly the original pieces because they would be layered together in the finished panel. I did this by tracing the originals with a pen then cutting the glass just inside the pen line.

After I had cut these to fit together exactly, I painted them with the same paint mix only far waterier and blotchy so they were dark and light in different areas. This helped to give the effect of natural fading and eroding paint. To enhance this illusion I then stippled on top of the dried paint to further erode it. This worked well and looked really similar to the original paint work. They were made so the original glass would go on top and the new glass would be sandwiched underneath with the freshly painted areas facing upwards to meet the old glass so it would be more protected from the elements.

(Fig 12. Image shows original glass silicon plated on top of new glass)

Once fired I re-cleaned both sections of glass and taped slithers of magic tape to them to hold each paring in place. I then silicone glued them using 'Ace Silicones; Silcoset 153' to stick them along the edges. I was told I could also use a different silicone 'Bluestar Silicone CAF 3' which is more liquid and good for cracks. I used a knife to apply the glue and once the glue had dried I removed the tape and re-glued over the gaps. I was told it was very important that there be no gaps whatsoever because when putting the panel together putty can slip between the gaps in the silicone and slide between the glass layers making a mess. I therefore did several layers of glue before the segments were finally ready to use.

On less important areas I copper foiled cracked glass, trimming back the foil with a blade to the bare minimum so the soldering would be less visible. On more prominent areas I used silicone to piece back together straight cracks. I first cleaned the glass then taped it securely on both sides with magic tape over where the cracks were, completely covering them. I then cut along the crack line with a sharp blade one side, leaving the tape intact on the other, so that the cracks are able to flap open but remain held together. The tape is both sides including the side where it has been cut for a reason. When the crack is siliconed this tape will prevent the silicone going onto the surface of the glass because it could leave a residue that may scratch any paint during removal. The tape therefore acts as a barrier to the glue.

Silicone is squeezed from the tube onto a glass pallet where it is coloured with pigment to the shade of the glass. Different resins can be dyed in the same manner. Tracing paint, Winsor and Newton Artists Pigment and Orasol a fabric colour for textiles are all used. They had a collection of a whole spectrum of colours for this purpose. They are all dry powders, the tiniest amount of which is scooped up with the tip of a scalpel and mixed into the glue. Several may be added to get the right tone, and it was suggested to me that it is better to make the final product lighter rather as opposed to darker than the original, so that it will not stand out.

Once the silicone is made up it is dabbed into the open cracks which are then shut firmly and pressed flat against the table so all the excess glue squeezes out. When the glue is set the excess is scraped off with a knife and the tape is removed.

When all the repairs and repaints were completed I began to lead together chapel panel. I used 3/16 inch wide lead, although it was previously narrow, to encompass the extra layer of glass. None of the glass fits together properly; some pieces are quite drastically different. This was the case with the original as well, so it wasn't just that I'd cut it wrong. It did however make it challenging to lead up, especially as the lead was so thin. In some places I doubled up the lead or added strapping to cover gaps. Strapping is when you cut the lead in two, leaving only one flange placed in an area with a gap and soldered on so the hole is not seen. It can also be used as a temporary measure to strengthen glass, maybe if there are cracks in it that can’t be repaired this will be added as a quick fix. At Chapel Studio

(Fig 14. Image of Chapel Panel restored)
they like the leading to be under the lead, where as at Lincoln Cathedral they liked it to be put on top. At Chapel they believe their method makes it stronger. It took me the whole day to put it together and solder it, but in the end it actually looked good, and it was not noticeable how badly it had fitted together. One or two tiny cracks of light that could be seen I simply filled when I came to putty. I finger puttied it with leaded light cement before cleaning up the glass with de-ionised water and a cotton bud. The areas where cracks were siliconed I had to mask off for this process as they can be stained by the black putty. I was very happy with the finished piece and felt proud that I had managed to put back together such a wonky collection of shapes, which I wasn't sure I would be able to do.

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