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FRANKLIN, MA -- Accompanied by the shrill of an electric saw, and a clinking rainfall of decades-old glazing, an entire wall of stained glass windows was extracted over the course of three days from the historic Franklin Federated Church -- bound for a Minnesota workshop to be restored to their original glory.
Under the guidance of project manager Kit Sherwood, of Willet-Hauser Stained Glass, each delicate panel was meticulously freed from the glazing and tiny nails that held them in place. Panels were carefully tipped out, set down and lowered to the ground on a mechanical elevated work platform. There, each panel was handed over to two other team members - Sherwood’s nephew, Tyson, and brother in-law, Jimmy Cope - to be taped and cautiously packed between layers of padding into a shipping container.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking,” admitted Sherwood, seeming relieved to have the panel he just removed safely secured with an “x” of blue tape and nestled into place among the other panels in the packing container.
Beside him, watching as Tyson Sherwood ensured the safety of the piece, Cope nodded in agreement. “They’re not solid, the panels,” he explained.
“They have a little flexibility to them,” added Sherwood.
Indeed, any pressure too strongly put to the panels would cause them to fall apart.
Nineteen panels of stained glass -- 16 smaller panels each weighing about 20 pounds, and three larger panels weighing in at about 100 to 120 pounds -- were removed last week from one side of the late 19th century church near the Franklin common.
The smaller panels feature large floral motifs. The three larger panels comprise the centerpiece of the stained glass wall, depicting a cross with a crown surrounded by lilies and sweeping curls of glass, punctuated by floral patterns at the junctions of the panes. Across the bottom, in blue glass with purple embellishments, is an inscription in glass: In Memory of Deborah Morse, 1821-1882.
The removal of the windows is part of a $500,000 ongoing restoration campaign at the church at 171 Main St., which dates to 1895. The window repair will cost $43,000 and is expected to take six months to complete.
The work is highly specialized, and will require the panels to be shipped off to the Willet-Hauser Stained Glass workshop in Winona, Minnesota. Sherwood said the studio is the largest stained glass company in the U.S. He and his team -- whom he calls his “apprentices” -- specialize in removing delicate stained glass panels and packing them for safe shipping to the workshop. They travel around the country to undertake the first step of restoration projects for which the company is hired.
Once the panels arrive at the workshop, Sherwood said, the artisans working on the restoration will do a rubbing of each panel so they know exactly how to put the panels back together.
“They then take it apart, put the glass pieces into a cleaning solution, and edge glue any cracks,” Sherwood explained. “Then they’ll build the windows with brand new lead.”
“When they come back, they will be very pretty,” said Cope. “They’ll be gorgeous again.”
It is not known exactly how old the stained glass panels are, though members of the Franklin Federated Church’s restoration committee think they are likely as old as the church building. Normally, windows like these need some TLC at least every 20 years, according to restoration committee member Dennis Groleau. It has been much longer than that for these panels, he said, estimating attention hasn’t been given to them for “at least 50 years.”
Church members are excited to see that getting rectified. Restoration committee member Greg Flynn said the central window and its surrounding panels are very beautiful.
“We are looking forward to getting many more years of illumination,” he said.
The window spaces will be covered with white plywood panels for the duration of the restoration work on the stained glass pieces. Once the panels are restored to their original locations, a clear acrylic will be installed to protect them.
The church launched its restoration campaign in 2015, securing the $500,000 needed in pledges from members and friends of the church. Other work that has been completed as part of the campaign has included a partial replacement of the church roof, a new heating system, foundation work to address water intrusion, replacement of the windows in the kitchen and dining room, electrical upgrades, and replacement of the exterior walkways, staircases and handicapped ramp.