Editor’s Note: This story was written by and republished with the permission of Ithaca Week, a weekly magazine produced by the students of the Advanced Multimedia Journalism class at the Roy H. Park School of Communications, Ithaca College.
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Sunlight glints off the brightly colored glass Tony Serviente gently organizes on a table in his workshop off Aurora Street, creating prismatic rainbows that dance across the glasswork around his studio.
He is one of the most respected glass artists in the Finger Lakes area, restoring windows for churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship. But his passion is in a dying art.
Stained glass has been a staple in many places of worship for over 1,300 years. But as we move into the 21st century, most religions have moved away from using stained glass, and that has made work hard for those in the glass industry.
“There are these contemporary mega-churches that meet in old, abandoned WalMarts and have reconverted huge, old warehouses into their spaces, and they don’t build stained glass into it, but they maintain these enormous video screens and often times on those screens you’ll see projected images that look like stained glass,” Brent Plate, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Hamilton College and author of multiple books on art and religion, said.
Many glass artists don’t get to design their own windows, and only do restoration work for churches.
“Many of the churches don’t like being tied to stained glass windows, whose designs are fixed and unchanging,” Serviente said.
Especially in Western traditions, stained glass is not as popular as it used to be, Plate said.
“Protestant Christianity within the United States has seen a decline in stained glass usage,” he said.
Despite this, certain parts of the United States have seen steady use of stained glass, Richard Gross, Editor & Media Director at Stained Glass Association of America, said.
“In New York State, the current status with stained glass is that many churches need restoration,” he said. “Areas where there are a lot of retired people like Florida have a pretty big demand for stained glass because they’re attending mass.”
Despite the challenges in upstate New York, this type of art can be rewarding. Serviente says he has been lucky in creating a reputation for himself and designing windows for multiple churches and places of worship in the area.
“I’ve been doing this long enough in this area that people know about me,” he said. “So I tend not to be battling with other studios.”
He has created works for groups such as for the meetinghouse of the Ithaca Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers. Marilyn Ray, Assistant Clerk of the Monthly Meeting, was a part of the decision making process that led to the creation of a meeting house.
“In the process when we were talking whether build or buy a meeting house, [Serviente] had said that he would like to design a stained glass window of whatever we did,” she said. “He offered to work with children and come up with a design for the window.”
Check out some of Serviente’s work here: http://www.servienteglassstudios.com/stained/restoration.php