State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 78 Spring 2006


Geoffrey Wallace
Conservation of the Shakespeare Window

The Shakespeare window, made by the Melbourne firm of Ferguson and Urie in 1862, is the earliest known figurative window actually made in Victoria. However, other ‘stencilled’ glass windows by the studio are known to exist from 1861, notably at St. Paul's Church, Bakery Hill and St. Margaret's Church, Eltham. The current installation in the State Library is its sixth known location; unfortunately it was obvious that the window had been damaged each time it was relocated. As a result of this mishandling repairs to the window, of varying quality, had previously been undertaken on at least five different occasions. The earlier repairs involved the replacement of broken glass with replications, and some early replacements, could possibly have been performed by Ferguson and Urie themselves. Later replacements, though, showed no attempt to harmonise with the originals and consisted merely of plain, unpainted glass.
At some time, probably in the 1960s, the window had been completely disassembled and virtually all of the lead came (grooved bar for holding together the pieces of glass) had been replaced, with the exception of three small border medallions that retained original lead came around their central rosettes. At the time of the re-leading, the major panel containing the figure of Shakespeare had been cut in half, presumably for ease of handling. An early photograph of the window from the 1920s shows it with no join through the body of the bard. Also, at this time any broken glass was grozed (trimmed) and new lead came introduced to join the broken pieces, creating gaps where none existed before. The quality of lead used for the replacement was of very poor quality, and by the time of the current intervention it had crystallised and contained a myriad of tiny cracks indicating that it had lost all resilience and tended to break apart if disturbed.
The studio who carried out the lead replacement apparently possessed no glass painting skills, and so any broken glass was simply replaced with unpainted glass. At this time, unpainted, but acid-etched, dark burgundy glass was also introduced and doubleglazed in front of the legs and shoes of the bard, possibly because a small triangle of glass was missing from Shakespeare's right ankle which proved to be very difficult to match and so was covered up with introduced glass. Unfortunately at this time, the original glass was heavily grozed along the breaks in the shoes, which has meant that the feet now look smaller than was originally intended. After the re-leading, the window continued to suffer more damage and at a later date, probably in the 1970s, more glass was replaced by lifting the flanges of the lead cames in order to remove old glass and reinsert new glass. At this intervention the face of Shakespeare was replaced. Also from this period there were many temporary repairs to broken glass achieved by soldering lead strips over glass breaks. Thankfully, this method meant that the breaks were not grozed, simply covered, which enabled the current repairs to be less intrusive than those that had earlier been grozed.

Conservation Decisions

The conservation of the ‘Shakespeare’ window posed many difficult questions as to the desirability and extent of intervention. Thanks to the internet, I was able to initiate a discussion with other stained glass professionals from the UK, USA and Australia to help examine the ethics of any possible procedures. Their input was invaluable in reaching some often difficult decisions.
(a) Lead
The condition of the lead matrix was such that it could not be disturbed without its falling to pieces, and it was unlikely that it would be capable of holding the window together for much longer. The reason for the lead failure was the purity of the lead alloy used to make the cames at the time when the whole lead matrix had been replaced. After World War II, most lead production was for use in batteries, which required a much purer metal, whereas architectural lead requires traces of tin, copper, silver, etc. to provide resilience. This was borne out with the failure of windows made from the 1950s through to the 1970s, when the lead structure failed in as little as 25 years. As there were numerous glass break repairs to be undertaken which would require cutting in to the lead matrix, it was decided to again replace the whole lead structure, excluding the few remaining samples of original 1862 lead. These samples provided an indication of the profile of the original lead came which was consistent with other Ferguson and Urie windows of the 1860s.
As no original came survived from the main structure of the window and there was no way of telling what size it would have been originally, it was decided that the face width of the new came should be the same as that of the earlier introduced came, which was consistent in size but not profile with other Ferguson and Urie windows of the period.
(b) Glass
There were over 200 individual glass breaks in the window, most of which had received some form of repair in the past. The earlier ones, at the time of the re-leading, had a new lead came inserted between the broken pieces and to prevent the window ‘growing’ due to the space taken by the heart of the introduced lead came, the glass was grozed, or trimmed, to take up the spread. The grozing usually took place along the break line, but some of the larger etched ruby background pieces had strips of 10-12 mm removed from their outer edge where they met the border or another major design element. Obviously the grozed glass cannot be replaced and the loss is permanent.
Later repairs — and there were many more of these — were affected in the most part by simply soldering a lead strip over each side of the crack and applying glazing putty to seal the break. This method, although crude, is fully reversible and the original break remains underneath, undisturbed. A much neater proposition for repair. The use of adhesives for edge gluing was rejected as the window would be illuminated with natural light and thus be exposed to UV radiation which would lead to a premature breakdown of all currently available adhesives.

Geoffrey Wallace, photographer. Image I. Detail of window before intervention, showing earlier, poor quality glass replacement

Geoffrey Wallace, photographer. Image 2. Detail of window after intervention, showing newly painted glass replacements in sympathy with the original window

With so many prior glass replacements and repairs to the window, the visual integrity of the original design was already compromised. This, along with poor colour matching of introduced glass, had created a ‘rustic’ impression far at odds with the original, sophisticated intention. As we could colour-match the original glass it was decided to replace these introduced pieces in order to return the window to its former, elegant, colour balance. This was felt to be important because the style of the window predates the Gothic Revival style of the later nineteenth century, which deliberately incorporated colour imbalances and extraneous lead lines to accentuate the fragmented nature of the medium of stained glass. Ferguson and Urie had tried to make this image as seamless as possible, using large pieces of glass and hiding all the lead lines within the design to reduce the impression of fragmentation. The poor colour matching was most apparent in the upper section of the window where the soft blue border medallions had been replaced with a vivid cobalt blue distinctly different from the originals. Our new medallions had holes cut in their centres to incorporate the yellow rosettes, as per the original, and to visually hide any lead lines. Three earlier replacements without inserted rosettes but of the right colour were retained, as was all broken original glass. This practice was also used for the replacement glass in the narrower green, blue and dusky rose borders. If the colour match was good, the glass was retained; if it was poor it was replaced with a better match.
Part of the arch, above and to the right of Shakespeare, was a good colour match and quite well executed, except for the vivid pink enamel used for the rosettes which was at odds with their counterparts on the opposite side. Also, during the earlier re-lead, this piece of glass had about 12 mm grozed off its upper edge, resulting in partial loss of the white border and the tops of the rosettes. This would have been done because the panel was growing in size, during the re-lead, due to all the mending cames that were being introduced at the time. This piece was also replicated with a better matching enamel and included in the window.
The etched and stained ruby border glass, between the medallions, contained a number of high quality replacement pieces from earlier interventions (on at least two different occasions) and these were retained in the window. The exception to this was the upper arched ruby border which was made up of broken straight borders, from elsewhere in the window, that had been cut and leaded together to replace the missing glass and also a shattered piece from the right hand side which had clear float glass glued to its reverse with silicone. These pieces were replicated and included in the window.
A number of raw, unpainted glass inclusions were replaced with painted glass to match the original intention. There was no evidence for the original sleeve of Shakespeare, so this was simply painted to harmonise with the rest of his green jacket. For all other replication, evidence could be found elsewhere in the window.
The hardest decision of all was what to do about Shakespeare's face. It was obviously a replacement; and the paint colour, brushwork and, particularly, the use of red enamel on the lips and cheeks and blue enamel on the eyes were totally uncharacteristic of the Ferguson
and Urie studio. The painting did not employ the traditional stained glass techniques of trace lines followed by applications of matte (shading) but instead looked more like the work of art oil painter used to working on canvas. Without prior evidence there was no knowing what the original face looked like, and any attempt to ‘improve’ on what was there would be unethical and unjustifiable.
Fortunately, prior evidence came forward in the form of a photograph of the window in a Melbourne newspaper, the Leader of 24 April 1920, thanks to Dr. Mimi Colligan. The face in the photograph, the original Ferguson and Urie face, was enlarged and digitally enhanced to allow full size comparison with the earlier replacement. What this proved was that the replacement face had been painted directly over the original, even though the traditional techniques had not been replicated. On this evidence it was decided to paint a new face following the proportions of the old photograph and existing replacement face, but in a style and materials similar to that known to have been employed by Ferguson and Urie in 1862.
For the painting style and paint colour, comparisons were made with other F&U faces from Christ Church, Warrnambool (20 faces from 1864) and Christ Church, Geelong (four faces from 1869). In all these cases, the eyes were painted black, with no highlight, and toned areas of flesh were enhanced with hatching lines. No enamels were used on any of the faces.

Techniques and Procedures Employed

(a) Documentation
Prior to disassembly, full size rubbings on vellum were taken of each panel and every glass break and non-original inclusion noted. Photographs were taken front and rear in both transmitted and reflected light, panel by panel, section by section and detail by detail. This was done before intervention, during intervention and upon completion of works, and visually describes the reasons for intervention and the conservation methods employed.
It was noted that there was no outer border on the upper arched section and the perimeter lead had been shaved back to the heart. The glass had also been removed and replaced with slivers of ply board, along the bottom border. These two things indicated that the re-leaded window had proven too tall to fit back into the frame and had been trimmed down in order to fit. For us, this meant that our own re-leading of the window needed to be assembled 35 mm shorter than the rubbings would indicate in order to allow room for replication of the original, missing borders.
(b) Cleaning
During disassembly of the window, each piece of glass was individually cleaned using only mechanical methods. Remnants of old leadlight cement attached to the glass edges were carefully chipped off with a lead knife, where necessary steel wool was used to dry clean the unpainted rear of the glass and natural bristle brushes were used to dry clean the painted
surface. Cleaning was conducted over a light table in both reflected and transmitted light and monitored through an industrial magnifier. Stubborn spots of accretion were removed using scalpels, dental picks, etc. No solvents or chemicals were used in cleaning and water was only used in the form of a damp cloth to remove the dust at the finish.
(c) Glass Repair
All glass breaks were rejoined using the copper foil method which is fully reversible and should last for an equivalent amount of time as the rest of the lead structure. This involves applying adhesive-backed copper foil tape completely around the perimeter of each piece of glass and folding it over to form a continuous ‘U’-shaped wrapping around the edge of the piece of glass. At the meeting edges of the break, the foil is trimmed back close to the face of the glass with a scalpel to form a minimal flange along each side of the broken edge only. Junctions of fractures are left with a spot flange of 2-3 mm diameter, while the outer edge is left with a 2 mm face flange. The broken pieces are then pinned together on the bench before fusing solder with all of the copper foil surface. During this process the spot flanges at the junction of fractures become tiny solder rivets, similar to the claws used by jewellers to fix precious stones, preventing dislodgement of the glass at the point of fracture. In extreme cases a copper splint was soldered across the break at the glass edge.
(d) Lead Replacement
As the window was rebuilt, extraneous lead lines that had been introduced in the earlier relead were discarded. In most places the original broken glass could be repaired with copper foil and, despite past grozing, could be fitted into the original, intended lead pattern. The only cases where the grozed glass and extraneous lead lines could not be accommodated were above Shakespeare's right elbow, the tiles at his feet and the blue border around the ‘Allegory of Art’ panel. In these cases the gap between the glass was just too wide.
The high quality and technical sophistication of the Shakespeare window is testament to the massive wealth generated in the fledgling colony of Port Phillip that could support a studio of the stature of Ferguson and Urie just 27 years after it was first settled. The studio went on to produce numerous stained-glass windows for churches, public buildings and residences before finally closing down in 1899. Thankfully, although often in need of serious conservation efforts, much of their legacy still remains today for the enjoyment of ours and future generations.
All photographs of the Shakespeare Window in this number of the La Trobe Journal are by courtesy of Geoffrey Wallace.

Geoffrey Wallace, photographer. Image 3. Detail of window showing earlier repair methods

Geoffrey Wallace, photographer. Image 4. The same section after “copper foil” repairs and missing glass replication


Geoffrey Wallace, photographer. Image 5. Upper section of window before intervention showing the large number of extraneous lead cames introduced during earlier repairs

Geoffrey Wallace, photographer. Image 6. The same section after intervention with introduced, lead cames removed