Larry Gordon of Port Stained Glass in Port Washington speaks about his trade as a stained-glass craftsman and his work to painstakingly alter windows from a New Jersey convent to fit the new Queen of Peace Cemetery chapel in Old Westbury. Credit: Newsday/Chris Ware

It was divine intervention,” John Kennedy, chief financial officer of Catholic Cemeteries of Long Island, said of the recent modification and reinstallation of a series of stained-glass windows depicting the Life of Mary in a stone chapel at Queen of Peace, a new, long-in-coming, 97-acre burial ground in Old Westbury.

For nearly three-quarters of a century the decorative panels had been shining their light on the Sisters of Christian Charity, Daughters of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception’s convent in Mendham Township, New Jersey. “The name of the Long Island cemetery had been chosen years before,” explained Kennedy. “They were rather a fortuitous find.”

On their journey to the chapel’s clerestory, the windows, which were created in 1958 in Germany (where the sisters’ order originated), first made a pilgrimage to what Port Washington artisan Larry Gordon considers his own sacred space.

Tucked between a ceramic studio and auto repair center, Port Stained Glass brims with the tools and detritus of his trade — pliers, scissors and rolls of tape hang from pegboard paneling; shelves and storage racks line adjacent walls; and large work tables, some lightboxes and an industrial-strength blue kiln complete the room. Outside, behind his workshop, Gordon planted an organic vegetable garden.

One of the most experienced craftsmen working with leaded stained glass in the United States, Gordon was entrusted with painstakingly reducing the size and altering the shapes of the windows — from roughly 13-foot-high rectangular pieces to 6-foot-tall arched ones — to fit in their new Gothic-style setting without losing their narrative essence.

“A booklet provided descriptive text for each panel,” explained Kennedy about the 20 images documenting the most important elements of Mary’s life, from the Nativity to the Assumption. “Reconfiguring abstract stained-glass windows is less risky. It may redirect a beam of sunlight, not eliminate an arm or a cape.”

Larry Gordon works on the stained glass windows in his...

Larry Gordon works on the stained glass windows in his Port Washington studio. Credit: Linda Rosier

‘Started as a hobby’

Growing up in Queens Village not far from his father’s five-and-dime store, Gordon — who celebrated his bar mitzvah in 1965 — did not foresee a future that included the restoration and restyling of Catholic dogma in stained glass.

“It started as a hobby,” he explained of the thousand-year-old craft that has been his livelihood for more than 40 years after early stints as a bagel baker and landscape construction worker. “I rented a basement in Oceanside with a friend of mine, and we began making functional glass objects, like planters and memo-pad holders, to sell at the flea markets next to local drive-ins.”

He took a job at Glass Crafters, a Manhasset retail operation that fabricated and restored stained glass, as well as sold supplies and offered instructional classes. Eventually, a colleague introduced him to Helmut Schardt, a German master craftsman and longtime collaborator of pioneering stained-glass designer Jean-Jacques Duval. “I worked for him [Schardt] at his studio in East Northport and on restoration projects all over the country for about 10 years,” said Gordon. In 1989, he decided to strike out on his own, making windows for a church in Lake Ronkonkoma.

As the proprietor of Port Stained Glass, Gordon has since worked on hundreds of synagogue and church projects (including one at Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.). He has also transformed artists’ compositions into glass panels installed at elevated Metropolitan Transportation Authority stations throughout the region and completed a host of residential restorations and commissions. “Few people do what I do,” noted the 70-year-old fabricator, “and some are older than me.”

The glass work that Gordon and his colleagues do falls into two categories — stained and faceted. The first involves small pieces of colored glass arranged in abstract or pictorial designs and held together by slender rods of cast alloy, or lead came. The latter, a method also known as “dalle de verre,” requires the setting of thick chunks of cast glass into epoxy or concrete, creating a mosaic-like effect.

The stained-glass panels repurposed for the Queen of Peace chapel were executed in the so-called Munich style, a technique developed in mid-19th-century Germany whereby the pieces of colored glass are overlayed with lines and tonal shading describing an elaborate narrative tableau.

“The paint is baked right in,” Gordon explained.

Some of the completed windows at Queen of Peace cemetery in...

Some of the completed windows at Queen of Peace cemetery in Old Westbury. Credit: Linda Rosier

Reshaping a narrative

To resize and reshape the windows, Gordon began by making brown-paper “cartoons,” or rubbings, of the glass segments composing the original works of art. He then played with the configuration of the tracings to best fit the critical elements of each panel’s design within the prescribed dimensions.

“In their new shape, some of the windows could lose an important part of their narrative — like [the image of] God,” noted Larry Hoy, the liturgical designer overseeing the interior elements of the new cemetery’s chapel. Indeed, without skillful manipulation by Gordon, the Heavenly Father might have been eliminated from one arched panel illustrating Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden with an image of the Immaculate Conception.

“God created humanity, and then Mary created Jesus,” said Hoy, who lives in Westport, Connecticut, and met Gordon in the late 1980s while they were both working on a church in Bellerose, Queens. “Larry was able to reduce the size of the window while preserving the iconography.”

According to Gordon, at least eight of the windows in the cycle required significant modifications. A pair of angels cloaked in vibrant shades of green in the panel depicting The Espousals (Mary betrothed to Joseph), for instance, was lowered to fit within the frame, as was the cross hovering above the angel Gabriel announcing to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and bear a Son of God in the next image in the series.

“The devil is in the details,” commented Richard Bie, president and CEO of Catholic Cemeteries of Long Island, while noting the windows’ undiminished vibrancy. “Stained-glass craftsmanship is a dying art, and it is amazing that we had Larry right here in our backyard to be able to do this kind of work.”

Throughout the process of transforming the windows, Gordon sorted and saved the discarded pieces of lead and painted stained glass for possible use in another chapel or crypt. “All the old lead gets recycled,” he said, tossing leftover fragments from one of the panels into a collection bucket.

The same spirit of salvation pervades the entire chapel project, architecturally inspired by France’s Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes. In sync with the recent trend toward more classical church design — as opposed to the modernist style popularized by Vatican II in the 1960s — Hoy, and the New Jersey nuns, were exceptionally pleased to find a new home for the luminous windows.

“The sisters were very connected to them. They didn’t want them to be sold separately or stashed away in a warehouse,” said Hoy of the decades-old glass paintings, which were acquired through a private arrangement between Catholic Cemeteries of Long Island and Sisters of Christian Charity, which didn’t use the windows in its new chapel. “They are irreplaceable. We couldn’t afford to make them now.”

A reclaimed carving of the Last Supper was reset in...

A reclaimed carving of the Last Supper was reset in a new marble altar made overseas and placed in front of the original to celebrate the Eucharist. Credit: Linda Rosier

Creating a new space

Hoy has spent much of the past half-dozen of his more than 40 years working on church interiors rescuing components from structures that are no longer in use. “A new building is like a blank canvas,” said Hoy, who joined the Queen of Peace chapel project after its design and construction had begun. “I have to figure out what to do to make it an appealing, worshipful space.”

To that end, he also fixed his sights on an altar that had resided at the back of a sanctuary in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, and was brought to his attention by the Rev. Eric Fasano, vicar general of the Diocese of Rockville Centre and the chapel’s theological consultant.

“It was a stunning, free-standing marble piece with a cupola and a carved depiction of the Last Supper,” said Hoy, who had the biblical image reset in a new marble altar manufactured overseas and placed in front of the original to celebrate the Eucharist. “I took a three-dimensional scan of the highly detailed Corinthian-style capitals and emailed them to the fabricator so that the pieces would coordinate,” he explained.

Also salvaged from a Brooklyn church, the former Church of the Epiphany in Williamsburg, are the chapel’s 120-year-old wood pews. With their installation and the completion of the construction being done in the next few months, the chapel, which broke ground in 2020, is expected to formally open later this year.

Carpenter Michael Rock with the reclaimed wrought-iron doors that are...

Carpenter Michael Rock with the reclaimed wrought-iron doors that are at the entrance to the Queen of Peace chapel, which is expected to open this year. Credit: Linda Rosier

Other recycled elements include the commanding wrought-iron filigree front doors and the carved mahogany narthex screen between the vestibule and nave, both recovered from the Sisters of Christian Charity property. In addition to the 20 reconfigured upper windows illuminating the story of Mary, 12 stained-glass panels dedicated to Catholic saints, by the same guild of artisans, including depictions of St. John, St. Peter, St. Agnes and St. Cecilia, have been installed beneath.

“I go into a lot of Catholic churches and a lot of the saints represented are male,” said Hoy. “I try to integrate as many women saints as possible. Women make a significant contribution in parish life.”

Kennedy added that he has indeed noted a new emphasis on female saints. “In more recent years, it has been better, but not even,” he said.

The last stained-glass image in the Life of Mary sequence takes pride of place in the apsis, reconfigured as a rose window, so named for its circular shape. To achieve that form, Gordon incorporated four symbols related to Mary from panels in the New Jersey convent chapel’s ambulatory by the same stained-glass artisans and painted and shaped mottled pieces of cobalt blue glass to seamlessly blend all the components. He also eliminated four indigenous men from the original composition, as their inclusion had been more relevant to the sisters’ mission.

“It is remarkable the iconography of the windows fit so well,” said Hoy of the miraculous find with respect to the chapel’s titular saint. “It shows Mary as Queen — queen of the earth, universe and peace — crowned and rising up.”

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