Masterpieces that command the heart of Goshen are restored

Community fundraising, and much difficult and skilled work, revive precious Tiffany windows at First Presbyterian

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  • Work underway at First Presbyterian Church (Photo by Geri Corey)

  • Rob Warner and Robin Knoblock (Photo provided)

  • Woodwork, restored (Photo by Robin Knoblock)

  • Before the restoration: the woodwork shows its age (Photo by Robin Knoblock)

“When we needed funds to stabilize the Tiffany windows in the sanctuary, we turned to our community and asked for help and help they did. How wonderful to live in a community where our houses of worship support the community and the community supports them.”
The Rev. David Kingsley

By Geri Corey

— The founding of the First Presbyterian Church of Goshen, located in the heart of Goshen, goes back to 1720. But the current stone structure was completed and dedicated in 1871. That’s a startling number of years — 150 — that the present edifice has been combating the elements.

Time’s wear and tear was causing damage to the church building, especially to the wood trim.

Then in 2011 came three storms in a row, including the destructive Hurricane Irene. It blew through the northeast, furthering damage to exterior wood framing that holds the church’s exquisite Tiffany stained glass windows. Since rainwater had leaked into the interior of the church causing damage, it was clear that the window casings needed immediate attention or the church would face the possibility of losing beautiful, valuable windows.

“An unbelievable amount of rain poured down three weekends in a row — a ton of rain,” said Rob Warner, elder at the First Presbyterian Church.

Warner and other church officials, including Pastor David Kingsley, knew the church’s coffers weren’t deep enough to cover the extraordinary cost of repairs. So they turned to the community.

To save the Tiffany windows, a fundraiser, the “Tiffany Ball,” was held in 2010 at the Harness Racing Hall of Fame. The community came out in support, making it a great success, and a second ball was held in 2011. Fundraising Chairperson Loretta Richner organized the first two, while parishioner Pat Green organized the third Tiffany Ball in 2013. Adding to the funds was a contest to raffle off an impressive piece of artwork, “Harriman Fountain,” painted in 1911 by artist John F. Gould. Money collected from the raffle was added to the window restoration fund.

Because of worsening conditions inside, Warner started working there using scaffolding to repair the plaster upfront, the ceiling at the back of the church, and he painted the columns and replicated early stenciling on the walls. He was off to a good start, but there still was much work to be done.

The Archangel cracksMeanwhile, Elder John Redman solicited bids from four stained glass companies for window restoration. He settled on J&R Lamb Studios from New Jersey.

“This company, owned by the same family for over 150 years, has done a lot of restoration — not just Tiffany — and created their own stained glass windows, as well as restoration work,” Redman said. “They’re well-qualified.”

The company entirely removed the first Tiffany window, “Jesus and the Pilgrims,” and brought it to their studio to flatten the warped glass, clean it and then re-install it, installing brass rods into the window frame while repairing minor work to the frame. Outside they replaced the acrylic window covering with safety glass, guaranteed not to yellow as the acrylic had. Repairs and restoration to the 6-foot wide by 21-foot tall window cost $26,000.

Restoration to the Tiffany triptych window, depicting Jesus Christ’s Resurrection with Archangel Gabriel speaking to three women, was a bit more involved because of cracks in a few panes. Tiffany glass is layered to give the illusion of depth in color and texture, and several cracks weren’t initially visible.

However, said Redman, “It was easy to fix and replace and when the work is now viewed, it’s difficult to see where the cracks were. They did a terrific job! The window has been here for 90 years and according to Lamb Studios, it’ll be good for another 90 years.”

The window was given a thorough cleaning, both inside and out, and installed with new safety glass. The largest cost for the 26’ wide by 30’ tall triple window was the safety glass, which was about $26 thousand.

“It’s a lot of glass,” said Redman.

With inside work completed, Warner began outside work by stripping, sanding — most times to bare wood — repairing cracked and rotten sections, and repainting — oil primed then painted — the window casings. Starting in July 2016, Warner faced the task of refinishing 11 windows with each window having four “bishop’s hat” arches with a quatrefoil on top.

Said Warner: “Because I didn’t want to loosen or crack any of the stained glass, all outside wood was sanded and stripped by hand. I didn’t use any power tools.”

Saying that the “windows were in deplorable condition,” he noted that it took about three months working from a scaffold to complete the job, including stripping, painting and reconstructing plinth block on two over/under windows on the 186-foot tall church tower.

Each frame consists of capitals (ornately carved top section), pilaster (the long side pillars) and plinth block (bottom square part) that all needed stripping, sanding, and sometimes had to be rebuilt because of rot. Ken Bets of Architectural Moldings, Hardwoods, and Supplies in Montgomery constructed the plinth block that needed replacing.

Warner often had to “pick out” layers of paint — especially in the flowers in the capitals.

“It was a daunting job, working on an iconic structure, doing it by hand,” said Warner. “Then as I rolled up my sleeves and started working, it became less so.”

Although he worked basically alone, he had help from his work partner Robin Knoblock. The two have been painting together for 17 years.

“She does the artistic painting, the faux finishes, and I do the plaster work,” he said.

Warner and Knoblock are pleased with the results of their work.

“They’re nice and crisp,” said Warner of the windows. But to keep the windows secure and looking their best, he said, they need to be inspected every four years to prevent more deterioration.

“When we needed funds to stabilize the Tiffany windows in the sanctuary, we turned to our community and asked for help and help they did,” said a grateful Rev. Kingsley. “How wonderful to live in a community where our houses of worship support the community and the community supports them.”

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