Stained-Glass Window-Maker

American Artisans, Made in America, People, Traditions
on October 8, 2009
Warren Westura Craftsman Luis Pinzon carefully removes putty from a restored stained-glass window.

Carmen Moreno, 44, lifts two 6-inch pieces of pink glass from an electric kiln and places them atop one another, forming the face of St. Jude in a stained-glass window being created for the Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Fort Lee, N.J.

"I painted one piece in mineral earth tones and the other in shades of black and white to create shadows and depth," says Moreno, a freelance artist for J&R Lamb Studios in Wyckoff, N.J. (pop. 16,508).

Founded in 1857 in New York City by brothers Joseph and Richard Lamb, the studio is the oldest continuously operating stained-glass window manufacturer in the nation, having created more than 15,000 original windows and restored more than 8,000 others for places of worship, government buildings, museums, businesses and private homes.

After Karl Lamb, the third generation to run the family business, died in 1969, the studio was sold to Donald Samick, who at age 21 joined the firm in 1964 as a draftsman apprentice. "I learned the business through in-house training, working in every department and traveling with the installation team," says Samick, 66, who operates the studio with his wife, Donna, 63, and 17 full-time employees.

In 2007, to celebrate J&R Lamb Studios' 150th birthday, the Library of Congress archived the business and family records, as well as 2,500 sketches for stained-glass windows created by artists between the 1890s and 1990s. Among the sketches are renderings for "Religion Enthroned," an elaborate piece of ecclesiastical art created by Frederick Stymetz Lamb for the 1900 World's Fair in Paris. Measuring 12 by 8 feet, the work features archangels Michael and Gabriel standing beside a haloed woman seated on a throne, and is on permanent display at the Brooklyn (N.Y.) Museum.

"The techniques artists use to create stained-glass art today are basically the same as 100 years ago," says craftsman Gregor Lorkowski, 40, as he assists Moreno in arranging 150 pieces of colored glass that will become a small window for Holy Trinity Catholic Church.

While the process is much the same as it was a century ago, J&R Lamb Studios has developed techniques and innovations that give its colorful glass mosaics dimension and richnessand make it a leader in the industry.

"J&R Lamb Studios developed the unique method of double platinglayering glass painted with separate colorsthat sets them apart from other studios," says David Adams, an art historian at Sierra College in Rocklin, Calif.

J&R Lamb Studios continues to create new, functional works of art, but much of its business entails restoring deteriorating or broken stained-glass windows.

"Glass is made of silica and will last forever," Samick says. "However, the lead that holds the glass together weakens with oxidation, moisture and heat, and needs to be restored about every 100 years."

Creating and preserving stained-glass windows is the longtime legacy of J&R Lamb Studios, which showcases its artistry in thousands of sacred and secular buildings across the country, including Sage Chapel on the Cornell University campus in Ithaca, N.Y.; the community center at Salemtowne, a retirement community in Winston-Salem, N.C.; and Christ United Methodist Church in Sugar Land, Texas.