Every splinter counts in stained-glass rescue

RHONDA MARKBY
Last updated 05:00 24/09/2011
SALVAGED: Repairs to the stained-glass window of the Church of the Holy Innocents at Mt Peel have reached the halfway mark. The window was smashed in the September earthquake and stained-glass artist Graham Stewart expects it will take another six months to finish.
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SALVAGED: Repairs to the stained-glass window of the Church of the Holy Innocents at Mt Peel have reached the halfway mark. The window was smashed in the September earthquake and stained-glass artist Graham Stewart expects it will take another six months to finish.

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Careful sifting for glass splinters among the stone and rubble of the earthquake-damaged Church of the Holy Innocents helped save its 2.7-metre-high stained glass window.

Soon after the September earthquake Mt Peel residents John and Rosemary Acland collected every shard of glass of the century-old window, their work meaning it is now halfway to being repaired.

"It was smashed to smithereens, it was a diabolical mess," Graham Stewart, of Stewart Stained Glass, said of the pieces that arrived at his North Canterbury studio. He described the damage as the shattered-windscreen effect.

The saving grace was the effort Mr and Mrs Acland had gone to in salvaging every fragment of broken glass from the 10 panes.

"They had very carefully filtered the glass from the stone that had fallen into the church. It was very good of them to show such foresight," Mr Stewart said, explaining that the shards were useful for colour matching.

The Mt Peel window was the most severely damaged in Canterbury in the September earthquake, but the conservationist knew it could be saved.

However, despite the Aclands' efforts, about a third of the glass was still missing. And much of what they had found was damaged.

The window was in by far the worst condition that Mr Stewart had been presented with, but he did have another piece of luck – a series of photos taken of it more than 20 years ago.

With the aid of computer technology, the photos have been blown up to actual size, and have been used as a pattern for the many missing and broken pieces.

The window was the worst hit in the September quake "but now it is one of zillions [of quake-damaged windows].

"All we have been doing all year is trying to salvage windows.

"We have just been quietly working away at it [the Mt Peel window].

"It is the feel-good factor," Mr Stewart said, adding it was an aspect of their work that was providing some joy, when staff were having to deal with so much destruction.

While hundreds of hours of work have already been put into the restoration project, Mr Stewart estimates it could take another six months for the window to be completed.

As to the cost of the project? "I don't want to scare you," was his response.

Ask him whether the completed window will be a restoration job or a replica and Mr Stewart uses the term "conservation" instead.

Some of the broken pieces of glass will be used and some of the cracks will be visible, a reminder of the earthquake.

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Glass that does not end up going back in the window will not be wasted – it will be reused in the reinstated church in some way. Mr Stewart said the window and the church were part of Canterbury's heritage – "there is nothing left in Christchurch".

"It is a very important little church."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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