The Stained Glass Store

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by Sara Durkacs

Just three blocks south of the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, one finds another odd homage to heroes from the comic book pages: stained glass interpretations of Captain America and Spider-Man on sale at the Stained Glass Store. Opaque shades of red, white, and blue expertly pieced together within veins of lead create a usually archaic or divine object for a new generation. These Saintly Superheroes are for sale!

Or, if you prefer, commission Peter Romano, proprietor of the Stained Glass Store, to create your own object of devotion.

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 Behind one of Park Slope’s quirkier storefronts, Peter Romano is entrusted with some of the city’s most important windows

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Romano is so adept at handling stained glass that one would think he had done this his whole life. Surprisingly, this is not the case. At the invitation of his cousin, Romano attended a series of Stained Glass classes offered by the former Brooklyn Museum Art School in 1976. The class was taught by Marlene Hoffman for both beginners and advanced students, promising participants a “creative use of stained glass set in lead and copper.”

“I had no idea about the process of making stained glass windows,” explained Romano, who hails from Canarsie. A Vietnam veteran who, at the time, was working on a road crew, he decided to give it a try. Romano liked the craft and together with his cousin, borrowed a modest sum to open the store. He continued his education with Hoffman, who worked along side him two days a week. By the early 1980s, his cousin lost interest and the store was all his.

Today, the bulk of his business is restoration and repair for homeowners. After nearly 40 years in Park Slope, he doesn’t advertise nor does he maintain a website. The word is out about his expertise: His business is steady, even as his regular suppliers are contracting.

 

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 Romano “puttying” a stained glass window

“You have to know how to cut the glass, nothing else matters,” Romano declares as I watch him “putty” one of several historic windows brought to him by a local contractor for repair. The same process is required whether one is creating, restoring, or repairing a stained glass window or object. The work is messy, repetitive and, ultimately, gratifying.

 

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 The glass cutter is a simple tool that scores the glass.

It is imperative to work in order, starting with a new design, or a copy of the damaged window’s, drawn on brown butcher’s paper. The drawing resembles a puzzle, with each area numbered sequentially. One then cuts along the lines of the design with special searing scissors that create a channel exactly the size of the lead “came”; a came is an “H” or I-Beam shaped piece of lead designed to hold the glass in place (copper foil may be used as well).

 

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Romano’s glass cutting tools: a blade and pliers

Now, with a series of numbered puzzle pieces making up the pattern of the window, each paper piece is adhered to glass and ready to be cut. The glass cutter is a simple tool, similar to a utility blade, that scores the glass. Glass running pliers, a tool that applies pressure on scored glass, helps to break the glass effortlessly. The edge of the scored glass is placed between the jaws of the pliers’ center mark … squeezing gently, the glass breaks neatly along the scored line.

 

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 Shelves upon shelves of glass pieces line the store.

One of Romano’s students, a retired fireman, working on his own design nearby, demonstrates this process for me while Romano continues to putty one window after another.

“Lead it up!” Romano exclaims when I ask what’s next. The came is cut to match each line of the drawing. Placing the stained glass between the precut came channels on top of the design, one then solders each joint together after the glass is in place. Lamp black putty, a special formula containing linseed oil, is applied between the came and the glass with a putty knife on one side of the window, then the other.

Allowing time for the putty to dry, polishing the glass and the lead came is the final step. Romano sparingly sprinkles some Whiting—a non-abrasive cleaning powder that helps to remove soldering and putty residue—atop one side of the completed window. Romano polishes the window with a stiff scrub brush until the luster is evident, then performs the same task on the reverse.

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 Romano sprinkling the glass with Whiting

At any given time he may be working on eight different projects, switching from one to the other. You may have seen Romano’s work around the neighborhood — on Ladybird Bakery’s transom, for example (the blueberry oatmeal scones are delicious!). He’s restoring several of the Montauk Club’s Moorish style windows, which should be returning shortly. Even the small screen has sought out his expertise:  An episode of Gossip Girl featured his handiwork.

A mish-mash of glass, supplies, tools, and window-panes give the appearance of clutter to his store. Family photos, fighter plane images, and Broadway show posters adorn the walls of his workshop. Some say visual and mental clutter forces one to focus and think more clearly. Romano doesn’t seem to notice the mess. “My mind isn’t cluttered, my mind is set for stained glass.”

 

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Are you the DIY kind of wooden house home owner? Romano will be offering a stained glass workshop this fall.

Special thanks Eunice Liu and Emily Atwater, Brooklyn Museum Libraries and Archives research assistants.

The Stained Glass Store, 300 5th Ave, near 2nd St., Brooklyn, NY 11215, (718) 768-7964