Stories in Art: University of Texas in Austin

Stained Glass in UT Austin

Historical stained glass window restoration is one of Stanton Studios’ specialties. Our studio has received windows from all over the United States to restore to original condition. We have restored windows from very famous stained glass artists, like Tiffany, the J&R Lamb brothers, F.X. Zettler, Franz Mayer, and Charles J. Connick. Stained glass restoration is, in a sense, an opportunity to go back in time and better understand the form and expression in the artist’s works.

Recently, Stanton Studios acquired windows from the Presidential Suite of Main Building at the University of Texas in Austin. These windows were dated circa 1920s. Upon further inspection, evidence was found that traced these windows back to the stained glass artist, Charles J. Connick.

Charles J. Connick had a well-known and established stained glass business in Boston during the same time that Louis Comfort Tiffany had his studio open in New York City. Each artist had a different taste and style, and their windows can be a testament to their artistic flare. Connick’s glass resembled the High Gothic era of stained glass from the medieval times. This involved cutting the window into very small, colorful pieces and painting with dark, thick lines without a lot of shading.

We have been working with UT Austin since 2007, and our first project entailed replicating a missing arched stained glass window and restoring several other windows that had been severely damaged in a hailstorm. Using a copy of an old black-and-white newspaper photo taken in the 1940s to recreate the look of the original hand-painted leaded glass window, we took down the plywood that had for years filled in for the missing window and reinstalled the newly replicated window.

Currently, Stanton Studios is restoring and repairing twenty-one 90-year-old windows using our accredited restoration techniques for historical preservation and conservation.

When beginning a new restoration job, we carefully document and photograph each window to start. Then, our craftsmen remove the rebar from the window and soak the entire piece in water to loosen the grout and lead, which helps prevent the toxic lead and grout particles from becoming airborne. After this, they take the window and make three “gravestone” rubbings of the window for rebuilding purposes. After the rubbings are complete, we remove the old, fatigued lead from the window and clean the glass in a mild cleaning solution.

Taking care, our workers then remove any excess grout from the glass and place the pieces on the gravestone rubbing to rebuild it. We take note of any breaks or cracked glass and match and replace any glass pieces that cannot be salvaged. The building of the window follows while the workers use restoration-quality lead came. Finally, the craftsmen will “mud” or “grout” the window and reinstall it into the original window location.

Removing lead from a restoration window
Cleaning solution for stained glass restoration
Cleaning glass for restoring windows
Gravestone rubbings for window restoration

For this particular project, we are reinstalling all the windows using an isothermal glazing system that Stanton Studios has used successfully in past. This system is designed to be a vent for the stained glass and protect the delicate artworks from weather and potential damage. We use protective glass on the exterior of the windows and reset the windows in front of the protective glass using bronze frames. This provides air circulation to flow in between the two windows and keeps the stained glass from being a barrier to the outside. Using a system like this will prolong the window’s life and protect the painted surfaces.

These windows from UT Austin have an interesting story behind the hand-painted glass. Connick designed eight large window panels that depict the eight genres of literature using feminine figurines. I would also venture to suppose that Connick was channeling the Greek mythology of the nine muses of arts and sciences in his windows for the university. For example, “Tragœdia” is a Latin work for “tragedy,” and the artwork portrays a woman with a “tragedy” mask behind her. I would argue that Connick was depicting Melpomene, the Greek muse of tragedy, in his window design.

The other seven windows depict: comedy, fiction, lyrical poetry, epic poetry, fables, debate, and history. The Latin translations are not completely clear on all the windows, nor is it completely clear why Connick chose to depict these ideas in this interesting way.

In addition to the muses, Connick also included various crests from colleges like Oxford and Cambridge. It remains a mystery why he carefully selected the particular crests that he did, and what his Latin inscriptions come to mean. There is very little record from the university of the windows’ creation or story.

Every project that comes through our doors is a story, and some even become mysteries that we have the challenge to try and solve. We love working in our line of business because every project has a tale of its own.

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