Restoring Dalle de Verre at Holy Hope Cemetery, Tucson, AZ

Holy Hope Cemetery restoration of dalles de verre

Dalle de Verre (literally ‘slabs of glass”) was invented in the 1930s and became popular for liturgical windows during the 1950s and 60s. It is made by embedding thick (1″) slabs of colored glass in a matrix of 2-part epoxy cement. Although it is much stronger than traditional leaded stained glass, it is still capable of being broken by determined vandals.

This post describes the epic task of restoring a badly vandalized Dalle de Verre installation at the historic Holy Hope Catholic Cemetery in mid-town Tucson AZ,

Holy Hope Cemetery Restoration
Before and after images of Dalle de Verre at the Holy Hope Cemetery, Tucson.

Background information

This impressive work of art, made from Dalle de Verre, serves as an emblematic sign for the historic Holy Hope Cemetery (established 1907) on Oracle road in Tucson. It was dedicated in the 1970s to the memory of Claud Sutherland:

Attribution for Holy Hope Cemetery Dalle de Verre
Bronze plaque dedicating the Dalle de Verre to Claude R. Sutherland – circa 1970

The sign is about 15 feet wide and 9 feet high and is composed of 15 panels, each about 3 feet square and weighing about 100 lbs. Although Dalle de Verre, with its 1″ thick slabs of glass, is much stronger than conventional leaded stained glass, it is still vulnerable to determined vandalism.

This was the case in early 2022 when unknown miscreants attacked the sign resulting cracking of the epoxy resin matrix and the breaking and removal of numerous glass dalles.

In addition, the iron framework, holding the panels in place, was damaged with broken welding joints and detaching of the anchors securing the frame to the stucco pillars.

Restoring Dalle de Verre – the challenges

Artistry in Glass has considerable experience in the repair of Dalle de Verre in the Tucson area but this project presented serious logistical challenges.

In particular, the weight of these large panels (over 100 lbs), and their method of installation make their removal (especially the high ones) difficult. One important issue is that moving is likely to result in further damage as the heavy panels with cracked resin matrix can easily break apart.

Therefore, a hybrid repair method was designed in which the seriously damaged panels were removed for complete re-fabrication and minor damage was fixed in situ.

A second, and more difficult, problem is that the original supplier of Dalles – the famous Blenko Glass Company from West Virginia has discontinued production – leaving only one US supplier (Kokomo Opalescent Glass Co., in Indiana).

Unfortunately, the inventory at Kokomo is limited and several of the required colors were not available. According, we have had to be highly creative – sourcing hard-to-find glass from comrades in the glass business (special thanks to Nidia at the Mezalick Studio in Philadelphia), and creating our own glass colors by fusing and laminating thinner colored glass.

We thank our supervisors at Tucson Catholic Cemeteries (Mike Marum and architect John Shaheen) for their accommodation in accepting slight color variations.

Restoration results

Several panels were completely re-fabricated including the most seriously damaged example:

Preparing dalles de verre
Applying sand while preparing to pour the epoxy resin

Before and After

Holy Hope Cemetery Repair dalles de verre before & after
Numerous missing dalles are re-fabricated by Artistry in Glass

Repair and repainting

In addition to addressing the effects of the vandalism, Artistry in Glass also repainted important details of the artwork (face and feet) that had faded due to natural weathering.

Holy Hope Cemetery restoration of Dalles de Verre
The image of the “Risen Christ” is re-painted to restore facial features

Restoring of ironwork

In a separate restoration contract, the Artistry in Glass welding and metalworking crew completely upgraded the metal support system.

Iron reinforcing for dalles de verre
Lateral steel truss stabilizes the support system

Addition steel bracing was installed and secured to the stucco columns,

Project Completion

The final two panels were successfully installed on Monday, December 19. During this procedure, the iron/steel framework was carefully cleaned and painted black. In addition, damaged stucco was repaired and painted.

Artistry in Glass is your source for antique repair in Tucson

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I was an exploration geologist and University Professor working in Botswana, Zambia, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, the Netherlands, Portugal, and other countries before opening Artistry in Glass in 1986. In my more than 35 years of experience, I have brought my technical abilities as a scientist to the trade of glasswork. During this time I have become an industry expert in glass and glass-related skills. Watch out for special insider tips developed from my detailed knowledge of the glass business.

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