Preservation, in addition to all its other attributes, can be perilous! This morning we began the project to stabilize the stained glass skylight above the front entry at the Swenson House. Aided by stained glass restorer Mike McCormick, we set out to clean, straighten and strengthen the beautiful skylight that had sat in place for a while — oh, 101 years.
The stained glass panel was installed in 1910 and sits about 25 feet above the entry.
But first we had to get the panel down to where Mike could work on it. The calendar at the Swenson is open for the next few days, so the work won’t interfere with any parties. Engineering getting the panel down was tricky. Mike brought some extra new rope, handles to attach to each end of the panel, and the idea was that we would just lower it down to the first floor…
W.G. Swenson and the architect, William Preston, designed what can best be described as a light box in the attic that would keep most of the attic dust away and also capture the light coming in from the dormer window in front of the house. The walls are painted silver, to reflect the most light.
The dormer window on the front of the house provides light
Mike McCormick attaches the rope for lowering the panel
Our field service and maintenance expert Max Lambert was at the other end, along with Janine Estrella, secretary of the APL Board. Janine was documenting with her camera. There were so many unknowns about what would happen when we started lowering the panel… how much does it weigh? Is the 100 year old wood frame strong enough? How about the metal holding the glass together? And how about the physics of lowering this panel with the two ropes: could it result in an irreplaceable piece swinging wildly above the front door (possibly going through the front door’s beveled glass)?
The panel was wedged in with wooden shims. Once we got those out, it was time to see if we could lift and fit the panel through the opening for its trip down. The answer: Yes, and it went a bit faster than we expected. The corner of the frame that Max was lowering gave way about halfway down due to the sudden stress of torque after so many years of none. I wound up holding the rope for the other side because Mike was about to be pulled into the hole…
The Abyss: about 14 inches on one side and a slope on the other. That is what we had to stabilize ourselves on.
One side was down and the other came down to rest slowly. There is some work to do on the south end of the piece where the frame gave way, but on the whole the panel came out pretty well intact. But then we had to get ourselves out of the “light box” and safely out of the attic.
I had to move my posterior along that board toward the entrance to the light box, with a hand from Mike to avoid plunging into the Abyss.
View upstairs after lowering the panel
Ready for its makeover. Beginning with a careful vacuuming!
With a thorough cleaning and reglazing Mike will do, the original color of the stained glass will come through beautifully. Oh yeah, we’ve got to get it back up there in a few days!