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ON THE GROUND: Frankford's stained glass masters

American Red Cross

Nidia M Mezalick

Arch St

St Johns Belcher

St Paul's Richmond

Triumph Rose

Wells Fargo Bank Windows

What do the historic vitrines at the Wells Fargo Building on Broad Street, the Tiffany Window at First Presbyterian Church in Germantown and the vibrant rounds and mosaics at Triumph Baptist Church have in common? They were all restored and reconstructed by Frankford's Mezalick Stained Glass, LLC. Winner of a 2012 Achievement Award from the Preservation Alliance, owner Nidia Mezalick has taken her four-person operation on the road to work on churches and buildings around the world in need of intervention.

Nidia's body of work includes historic stained glass repair, mosaic murals, newly designed stained glass windows, woodworking, stone conservation, relief work, interior and exterior preservation, and custom 3D carving. Nidia has repaired works of art that only a conservator could touch, including pieces by glass masters such as Louis Comfort Tiffany, Paula Balano, Stephen Adam, Saint-Louis and Charles Connick.

Nidia first fell in love with glass in 1981, during a visit to the world-famous Bendheim's glass shop in New York City. "It was the candy store of glass," she recalls. "That's where I first learned about the process of puzzle work in stained glass. I knew that I could put the put the puzzle together." 

She started her own company, Bridgeport International, in Virginia in 1996. Through her design work, she met fellow restoration junkie Michael Mezalick, who became her husband. The two eventually moved back to the Philadelphia area, launching Mezalick Stained Glass in 1999. 

The Frankford neighborhood was a natural choice—Nidia already owned property on Griscom Street. The Philadelphia native bought the home in 1989. "I was a single mom at the time, and I had three boys to raise," recalls Nidia. "My kids went to the local schools."

Even during that three-year sojourn in Virginia, she never sold the house: "This would be my way to come back home," she explains. When that return to Philadelphia happened, the couple bought the studio at 4830 Frankford Avenue, but also kept their eyes on the house next door on Griscolm, hoping for it to become available. When it finally did, they purchased the property, and the couple's commute got considerably shorter. "We bought this building specifically to use for the office," says Nidia. "I like working late nights, and this way, I don’t have to worry about walking home from Frankford Avenue."

Expanding the workspace was the next phase. "The building next to the studio became available so we bought it," she explains. "There’s this big lot in between, and we really wanted that lot so we bought that one for three times the amount we paid for the studio."

Mezalick and Michael worked alone for years before employing two equally passionate artisans, Andrew Ramos and Matthew Kibert. The Frankford artisans have completed jobs as far away as Bermuda; they just returned from Trinity Episcopal Church on the Green in New Haven, Conn., where they reconstructed a finial in carved brownstone. Every job has its own unique challenges, in this case it was materials. "We went to the brownstone quarry in Portland, Conn., for this job," explains Nidia. "The quarry is closing forever to be made into a water park. No more brownstone. It’s the last brownstone quarry there was. Only a few pieces were available for a replication. We got in right before it closed. It has to stay up there forever."

Mezalick Design Studios has also had a hand in conservation throughout Pennsylvania, working on designs at St. Thomas Moore Church in Pottstown, First Presbyterian Church in Erie, and Central Baptist Church in Wayne. Wilson College, a historic women's college in Chambersburg, asked for help moving a Tiffany window.

In Philadelphia, the First Presbyterian Church at Germantown and Chelten Avenues needed help restoring an exquisite Tiffany rose window that had been covered up by the installation of a pipe organ. Nidia releaded the window and installed fiber optic lighting so the piece would be visible from the street.

When working directly on a window that needs repairs, Nidia will often pack up the glass and transport it back to the shop. "We do these paper rubbings," she explains. "We have these long rolls of paper. We cut it. A stained glass window can be sixteen feet high but have twelve sections. Each panel is numbered and each panel has to have a rubbing because it’s a different design on each piece." When the work is done the team puts it back together like a big puzzle.

Locally, one does not need to travel far to find further examples of the Mezalicks' work—windows at the Arch Street United Methodist Church and St. Phillip’s Church in South Philadelphia, and mosaics in Mercy Catholic Medical Center Misericordia Hospital and the Children's Garden at Longwood Gardens. This group of local artisans has been instrumental in producing a plethora of the city's most beautiful hidden treasures. By pairing an old school, artisanal approach to construction with meticulous, cutting-edge restoration techniques, Mezalick Designs Studios gives ailing structures new life.

BONNIE MACALLISTER is a multi-media artist, grant writer and journalist residing in West Philly. Her work has appeared in Tom Tom Magazine, Toronto Quarterly, Nth Position (U.K.) and Grasp (Czech Republic). Send feedback here.
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