D’Ascenzo Stained Glass

d'ascenzo adA long-ago Pennsylvania guidebook highlighted the locally-crafted windows in our 1911 church, where “the leaded glass is particularly beautiful; windows are of the antique school and extremely rich in color. Have you ever wondered how they were made?

Nicola D’Acenzo, whose firm crafted the four round windows and six long windows, believed that “the architect is the maker of opportunities.”  Architect, Henry Dagit, would have planned the size, shape, and locations; and, after consulting with the Pastor, the general subjects for his windows. D’Ascenzo’s role was to assist the architect “in giving final expression to his buildings.”

The stained-glass workers brought their own expertise. A reporter visiting the D’Ascenzo studios downtown wrote: “Chat with a D’Ascenzo artist…and he will dwell on the importance of the window’s ultimate location.” Figures had to be scaled so that they would look good to the viewer, seeing them from below. “The supreme problem is color. The artist must know light. Glass made for the gray skies of France or England is apt to be an unintelligible blaze of color under the brilliant American sun.”

Walking through the workshop, the reporter described the process as he saw it: first, a small water-color sketch was painted. When that was “finished and approved, the cartoon must be made…That is simply a full-size, charcoal drawing of the window design. The place for each piece of glass is numbered, then the entire cartoon is cut up, jig-saw fashion, and affixed to a sheet of plain glass. The work-man, one eye on the little water-color sketch, selects the right-tinted glass, cuts it, then attaches it with beeswax to the plain glass in the spot vacated by his paper pattern. Soon the whole window is laid out on the glass easel. Decorative details and flesh tones are painted on with mineral pigments, which, when heated to a cherry-red – 1,1250 to 1,250 degrees Fahrenheit – fuse with the glass. Hydrofluoric acid is used to etch the surface for special effects. The bits of colored glass are now ready to be stuck together with the soldered lead strips. ‘Muck,” a waterproof cement, is ‘scrubbed’ into the crevices, and iron rods are worked into the decorative pattern to reinforce the whole.”

An earlier writer had noted that in reading a description  “one misses, of course, the cordial welcome of Mr. D’Ascenzo, the making of the full-size cartoons by his assistant designers, the snip of the scissors in the pattern room, the screech of the wheel as the glass is cut, the painting of the glass on the easels, the burning of the glass in the kilns and the hiss of the soldering iron.

What makes our church special?  Shut your eyes and imagine the distant echoes of earnest voices and clanging tools, carefully hand working each decorative detail.

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