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Stained Glass in Albany

April 4, 2010

by Courtney DiFiore

Scrap glass in Chapman’s (Courtney DiFiore)

ALBANY N.Y. – Walking into Chapman’s Stained Glass Studio is like a step back in time. The operators of the shop at 212 Quail St., pride themselves on their craftsmanship.

“We do our windows the same way they did in Europe years ago,” said Kevin Morgan, the current owner. The business began in 1898 by William B. Chapman on Hudson Street. After working for 15 years at Chapman’s, Philip Morgan bought the business and moved it to its current location. Stained glass was his passion. His son, Kevin Morgan, worked under him as a boy, creating his first commercial window at the age of 13. Eventually, Philip passed the business onto his son Kevin who bought it in 2005. Kevin’s wife also contributes to the business and runs the studio on a day-to-day basis. Morgan does most of the traveling.

“It’s a niche business,” said Morgan. “Eighty percent of our business is ecclesiastical work. The other 20% is commercial and residential.” Currently, Ron Buckley and Adam Krawczak, two employees of Chapman’s, are restoring door light windows from St. Joseph’s in Schenectady. Most of their jobs are in New York, though they do travel the east coast.

Creating stained glass is a time consuming endeavor. Many steps go into the stained glass making process. Buckley explained how it works. Stained glass begins to deteriorate from both gravity and time after some 70 to 100 years. That’s when the guys in the studio come in, literally. They travel to a job site where the next window restoration is located. Most of their restorations are stained glass windows in churches. If the job happens to be the restoration of a window because it’s simply falling apart or perhaps it’s been smashed by an intruder, as was the St. Joseph’s door light window, the men at Chapman’s take out  the window in its entirety and record measurements.

Back at the studio, the men use the design of the stained glass by taping carbon paper over the glass and using a rubbing crayon over it. This marks the high points of the stained glass. Now, the window is ready to be disassembled. Each piece of glass will then be hand washed and dried. The craftsmen get needed replacement glass from their studio scrap glass, by ordering through manufacturers, or by swapping with B&D Glass, another local stained glass studio.

Located in Rensselaer, B&D Glass has frequent contact with the operators at Chapman’s. B&D is owned and managed by Darlene Benedict.

“The relationship we have is a friendly one,” said Benedict, who sometimesRestored stained glass windows in Chapman's (Courtney DiFiore) trades goods. Unlike Chapman’s studio, B&D Glass practices the copper foil technique. This allows for more intricate stained glass, while lead work, Chapman’s specialty, is used more for restoration. Benedict carries a lot of spectrum, a specific type of manufactured glass. When Chapman calls Benedict for an item, more often than not, they request a specific color of spectrum they need. Benedict also said the two businesses like to share tricks of the trade and with the struggling economy, it’s nice to have the relationship they share.

Once all the pieces are washed, dried and smoothed, the Chapman men can reassemble the window by going back to their carbon copy template. Using H-sectioned lead cames, the glass is slid into place until all pieces are where they should be to complete the window. The joints are then smoothed out and ready to be prepped with flux. Flux is a liquid that allows solder to take. After the flux is applied, a soldering iron is used to melt the solder to the lead came joints. Now, the glass won’t rattle. It takes no time at all for the lead and solder to dry and harden at the joints. In seconds, the door light window Buckley was working on was soldered and wiped down to reveal a pristine looking stained glass window. Finally, after a piece of work is all finished, the men will take the stained glass back to the church and install it.

“I’ve been into many churches I thought I’d never see working here,” said Krawczak. After taking a class in college, Krawczak developed a skill and love for stained glass and window restoration. Since then, he began doing copper foil stained glass on his own before joining the Chapman’s team.

One customer, Darryl McGrath, recently said she was impressed with knowledge of the staff at Chapmen’s. McGrath, a journalist and adjunct professor at University at Albany, had bought a few vintage glass vases from a consignment shop and wanted to reuse them as hanging light fixtures in her house.   She discussed her project with Buckley. Originally, she brought in a vase that was blown glass. Buckley advised her to bring back another and save that piece because he expected it would break if he drilled a whole in the bottom of it. The problem with blown glass, though not usually a problem, is the air bubbles in the glass. In McGrath’s case however, she took Buckley’s advice and came back with a new, tall, clear vase.

“It’s hard to find somebody who will do specialty work like this,” said McGrath, which was one big reason she chose Chapman’s studio. She left satisfied and ready to hang up her now dual purpose vase.

All the men at Chapman’s are passionate about their work, just like Philip Morgan, and they enjoy the time spent working on stained glass. Since its beginning in 1898, Chapman’s has been a successful business and it looks as if Kevin Morgan and his wife plan to keep it that way. Currently, they have a website under construction which they expect to have up and running within the year. -30-

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