Conservation and restoration of the Fisher period stained glass dome

The most dramatic intervention to the interior of the Nickerson House was made during the Fisher period of occupancy. In 1900–1901, Lucius Fisher engaged architect George Washington Maher (1864–1926) to redesign the Nickerson Art Gallery at the northwest corner of the main floor. Fisher re-envisioned the space as a Trophy Room to display his collection of game animals, weaponry, and rare books. The crowning achievement of Maher’s new decorative scheme was the installation of a striking stained glass dome that replaced the original Nickerson period clear glass skylight. During the summer of 2004, Botti Studio of Architectural Arts of Evanston, Illinois, conducted an extensive assessment of the dome. Upon inspection the stained glass dome and perimeter lay-light surround were found to be in a state of failure. Poorly conceived restoration attempts by previous owners of the house had added to the deteriorated condition of the structure. In fall 2004 the contract for the restoration of the Fisher dome was awarded to Botti Studio.

The Art Gallery, Nickerson period, c. 1890.

The Trophy Room and Rare Book Library, Fisher period, c. 1901.

The dome, seen here in 2003 prior to restoration, comprises eight wedge shaped segments arranged around a circular center panel (oculus), and four flat lay-lights, all held within a steel frame. The design depicts four trees, the trunks of which arch towards the oculus of the dome, while their leaves, rendered in autumnal colored drapery glass, form a canopy against a turquoise sky. Each lay-light panel features a central area of green and white striated glass, framed by a band of drapery glass leaves, in turn framed by a border of emerald green drapery glass. The panels of the dome all exhibited buckling and bowing of up to three to four inches throughout. In many instances the stained glass panels had bowed inward to such a point that substantial areas were left either entirely unsupported or just barely affixed to the structural frame.

The dome panels and lay-lights are made up of multiple pieces of glass held in place by lead cames. Cames consist of two parts, the flange and the heart. The flange is made up of two parallel elements, which are shaped around the glass. The heart connects the two parallel elements of the flange. The came is soldered together at the points where the individual pieces of glass meet.

While lead cames provide the majority of the support for the glass, they are not enough support for the entire structure of the dome. Steel support bars reinforce the structure and act as lateral braces to bear the weight of the individual panels.

The lead cames were severely deteriorated throughout the dome and lay-light panels. Under pressure many of the cames had separated with multiple breaks occurring between the solder joints.

Pre-restoration photograph documenting damage where lead cames have stretched and pulled apart.

The original steel support bars of the dome, plus those installed as part of later restoration attempts by previous owners of the house had pulled away from the cames. In most instances this process had caused structural damage to the came where it was affixed, leaving voids in the top flange. In many areas the damage was deep enough to tear and cause losses to the heart of the came as well.