A clear calling: Stained-glass window saved from wrecker

For five decades, light filtered through the golden stained-glass cross, accented by a border of emerald green, sapphire blue and ruby red hues.

Then, came the news that the walls of the Erwin Road chapel had to fall.

But not the inspirational artwork in St. John’s Chapel at St. Mark’s Anglican Church. Anglican rector John Sharpe had other ideas for the colossal window that cast its soft northern light from behind the pulpit over parishioners for so many years, and those plans in no way included a wrecking ball shattering the colorful panels.

"When we left the building after worshipping there for three years, I said, ‘We’re not in any way going to destroy this stained glass window.’ It’s a sacrilege to destroy this kind of art," said Sharpe.

Sharpe found out last week that the building was scheduled to come down, and organized the exodus over the weekend, removing pews, altar, organ and anything else that could be of use, placing it all in storage. But the window, 20 feet tall and four feet wide, remained.

That’s when Sharpe called "the glass person," Frank Presnell, with a simple question: "Is this worth saving?"

"You’re looking at a piece of stained glass that has been in the community for 50 years. I just couldn’t conceive of destroying it," Sharpe said. "The light of the sun has shone through that window on the lives of too many people for too many years for it to just be obliterated.’’

Presnell, who works for Durham’s Carolina Stained Glass Inc., looked the window over and offered some figures. It would cost about $12,000, he said, to replace the window, which is in perfect shape. Estimates to remove it ran as high as a third of that, depending on how long the work took.

That was all the information that Sharpe needed.

"My primary concern is that this piece of glass be preserved because it is so important for so many people who lived in the Methodist Retirement Home and worshiped in that chapel for 50 years," Sharpe said.

Sharpe called the Methodist Retirement Center to see if it would help with the cost, and "they agreed to go halves with the de-installation."

Jim Ward, chairman of the Religious Life Task Force at Croasdaile Village, the new home of the Methodist Retirement Center, called it a no-brainer.

"That’s too valuable a window to waste," Ward said. "It hasn’t been decided what to do with it, but if we can use it in the chapel we are building here at the retirement home I think we will probably pay the whole bill and put it in here, but I haven’t talked with the architect yet."

With the money issue out of the way, Sharpe went on-site to face the workers.

"They were so nice," he said. "They said, ‘You just tell us when you are out of there and when we can go in.’ A demolition man could have said, ‘I’m sorry. We haven’t got time.’ "

Dave Mazur, owner of Empire Dismantlement Corporation out of Buffalo, N.Y., said it was no big deal.

"Whenever we can help out churches, or anybody, we try to work with them," said Mazur, whose crew was busy gutting the building adjacent to the chapel. Most of the debris -- concrete, brick and steel -- was slated for recycling this week, according to Mazur.

Presnell and his crew showed up Wednesday morning and began setting up scaffolding inside the chapel.

"We should know in the next couple of hours how hard it is to get out," he said. "I’m pretty sure it is going to have to come out one panel at a time."

A couple of hours later, he was proven right. The glasswork fit into grooves in the oak beams that form a cross.

"It’s a toughie," Presnell said. "The putty is so old it is as hard as concrete, so we have to chisel away the wood a little at a time to remove each panel."

By late afternoon, Presnell and his crew had taken down the last panel and tucked them safely into their truck for storage, leaving the way free for Mazur’s men to move in.

And the walls to come tumbling down.

600450 A clear calling: Stained-glass window saved from wrecker glassonweb.com
Date: 1 March 2003
Source: Herald-sun.com

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