Beauty of Morenci Congregational Church windows restored 2008.08.06

Written by David Green.


For John McCartney, it’s all about preservation.

He’s seen windows and doors replaced, and sometimes entire buildings torn down when the original could have been saved.

“It’s important to preserve the old rather than always tear out and build new,” John said. “We promote preservation as a better approach than dumping materials into a landfill.”

The major focus of his business is saving old church windows from

John and his colleague Brian George were in Morenci last week working on windows at the First Congregational Church where members are preparing for their 150th anniversary Aug. 17. Full Spectrum Stained Glass played an important role in getting the facility in shape.

Several decades ago, church members decided that a Lexan plastic covering should be placed on the outside of the structure’s old stained glass windows. It would provide protection to the windows and offer some insulation in cold weather.

That was a good idea, but it came with some problems.

John isn’t sure if a chemical reaction took place or whether the Lexan became clouded through decades of wind blown dirt and dust striking the surface. Whatever the reason, the protective covering became so opaque over the years that the stained glass design was nearly impossible to see from the outside.

That’s the obvious problem that passersby notice. A stained glass specialist sees other trouble: heat and moisture.

“It actually adds to the deterioration of the stained glass,” John said about an improperly installed glazing.

When heat is trapped between the window and the plastic (the glazing), it accelerates the expansion and contraction cycle of the glass pieces and the solder holding them together, explained John’s business partner and wife, Valerie.

Trapped moisture accelerates the deterioration of the surrounding wood.

Full Spectrum removed the old Lexan and cut quarter-inch plate glass to take its place. The new glazing includes several ventilation plugs for each window.

Aside from cleaning and painting the sashes, the new glazing is the extent of the work done on this church.

That’s often the case, Valerie said, because money is the factor that generally determines what can be done.

When John is called for consultation, the first step is to make a survey of the windows. Problems are identified, priorities are suggested and a course of action is drawn up. Windows are also photographed and catalogued. This provides at least one historical record of the craftsmanship, Valerie explained.

 “Some larger churches will have an on-going restoration plan, doing a little bit every year or as funds are available,” she said.

There are three tell-tale signs pointing to the need for some major restoration: solder joints cracking and breaking apart; reinforcing pieces no longer doing their job; a sudden change in the appearance of a window, where it looked fine one year and the next year it’s bowed or

In that case, the window must be removed from its casing, packed in a crate and trucked back to the McCartneys’ studio in Colon, Mich.

Sometimes the window needs to be taken apart and resoldered. Other times, a broken pane might need gluing or replacing.

“We’re fortunate that we’ve been able to match most every glass needed,” Valerie said.

That might seem like a miracle when dealing with glass that’s often more than a century old, but a company in Kokomo, Ind., makes it easier in this part of the country.

“They still make the same glass and textures they did 135 years ago,” John said.

But not all stained glass in the area came from Kokomo and occasionally a new glass will have to be produced to make the right match.

The windows in Morenci’s Congregational church are due for some studio restoration, John said, but there’s no immediate concern. Deterioration is generally nothing that happens quickly.

“They’ll be good for a lot of years,” he said.

Family business

As Valerie describes it, Full Spectrum Stained Glass was founded by sheer accident.

About 20 years ago she suffered from a debilitating virus that left her partially paralyzed for several months. Her sudden change to life in a wheelchair was not going well.

John once visited a stained glass studio when he was on vacation, before he and Valerie were married, and the sight of the craftsmen using old tools to create designs left a lasting impression.

When Valerie needed something to get her through rehabilitation, John suggested stained glass.

“We bought some scrap glass and materials and worked until three in the morning,” Valerie recalls. “We had a blast. It kept me from going crazy.”

The new enterprise outlasted her illness. A hobby turned into a business.

“I’ve always been a bit of an artist—I had an exceptional art teacher—and John, on the other hand, is very mechanical,” Valerie said. “The combination of both of our talents gave us what it took to get our business off the ground.”

The McCartneys’ now offer new window design and fabrication in addition to restoration and preservation of church windows and other stained glass creations in homes and institutions.

But is Valerie still taking the time to create stained glass pieces for herself?

“I wish I did,” she said. “I have sketches of things I want to do for my house, but by the end of the work day...maybe when I retire.”

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