Gothic Glories

Kevin Carpenter, friend and patron of Nellyglass Studio, brought a fascinating project to my attention in June 2022. The roots of this commission go way back to the great Saint John fire of 1877 that destroyed the original Centenary Methodist Church on the corner of Princess and Wentworth Streets. Rebuilt after the fire entirely in stone, the “new” church (1878) was a classic example of gothic revival. The beautiful stained glass windows were made by J. C. Spence of Montreal. In their day, they were the largest installation of stained glass in Eastern Canada.

Sadly, because of a dwindling congregation, the church was decommissioned in the late 1990s and fell into disrepair for many years before it was finally demolished in 2019. Just prior to demolition, however, local Saint John artist Vicky Walker and her partner, Stephen Chase, removed all the stained glass windows (tons of them).

Since then, Vicky has been creating wonderful stained glass art and jewelry from the glass fragments. She was in the process of designing two identical panels for Kevin Carpenter when sudden bad news put a halt to her production; Vicky was diagnosed with high levels of lead in her blood and had to cease all work with lead-based metals. That’s where I come into the picture.

Kevin contacted me to ask if I would be interested in taking over on Vicky’s behalf. Immediately YES!!! was my answer as this would be the chance of a lifetime to work with 150 year old glass.

Vicky’s vision

I visited Vicky’s studio to collect the work in progress. What a thrill to meet such an accomplished artist and share thoughts on our craft. I admire her artistic drive and felt her disappointment at not being able to finish this project herself. Vicky had already completed the design work and provided me with almost everything needed to assemble the panels (glass, lead came and zinc came).

Back in my studio, all senses were on high alert as I disassembled the original panels for cleaning. The old lead came was severly corroded and the glass was grimy from 150 years of the church’s coal-fired furnace and SJ city smog. Fear of dropping or cracking the glass kept me on my toes as this glass could not be replaced. If I felt unsure at times about how to proceed, a quick text to Vicky for guidance and reassurance was greatly appreciated.

I had both panels assembled well before the mid-August installation when Kevin and Karla were away from the house on vacation (surprise Karla!).

photo courtesy of Kevin

I must say, they do look grand hanging in their dining room. And to think, this glass and that church used to be right across the street from Kevin and Karla.

Definitely a high point in my glass career, I was so excited and fortunate to be involved with this project. Such important glass!! with its nearly 150 year history and such wonderful people; Kevin who trusted me with these ancient jewels and Vicky who mentored me to a higher skill level, all the while dealing with a serious medical condition and treatment. I was honored to help fulfil her artistic vision.

They say every great work of art has a story. Well, Kevin and Karla, now you have a story. I am very pleased to present these Gothic Glories (designed by Vicky Walker, fabricated by Nelson Alward).

Gothic Glories

10 thoughts on “Gothic Glories”

  1. Thank you Nelson! They are spectacular!! You are very good at helping Kevin with his surprises and they mean more knowing that you completed them.

  2. Well done, Nelson … an interesting story and the outcome! All the best to Karla; enjoy them, Kevin & Karla!

  3. Wow, what a great story. Well done Nelson in bringing the “Gothic Glories” to completion. Kevin and Karla must be thrilled with the hangings. And all the best to Vicky.

  4. Nelson, this story touches the emotions and raises the spirits. And the result is an amazing tribute to the original artist. Thank you for sharing.

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