When, more than half a century ago, the homily went into serious overtime at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in West New York, N.J., young Donald Samick found a welcome distraction in the rich colors streaming from the stained-glass windows. “I remember looking up at the windows and thinking how pretty they were,” said Mr. Samick, 64, now the head of J&R Lamb Studios Inc., the oldest continuously operating ecclesiastical art and stained-glass concern in the U.S.
Lamb, which celebrated its 150th birthday last month, has had commissions from every state in the union. These range from the creation of a double lancet stained-glass window for Manhattan’s Marble Collegiate Church and stained-glass windows for various chapels at Camp Lejeune, the North Carolina Marine Corps base, to the restoration of the Robert E. Lee memorial window in Richmond, Va.’s historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church — made necessary when a sailor on leave and in his cups heaved a rock through it.
In the work room of the studio, a modest two-story structure on a busy suburban street here, an artisan was assembling a stained-glass window for St. Albans Episcopal Church in New Brunswick, N.J., one of a series of four that will replace large sheets of colored glass. At a neighboring work table, an employee examined a window with missing pieces — a memorial tribute to one Helen C. Dickinson Gesner — that had been brought in for evaluation from Christ Church in Ridgewood, N.J.
There’s a 60/40 split between commissions for new windows and restoration projects. While much of the work is ecclesiastical in nature, Lamb does a few domestic jobs — diamond shaped leaded glass, say, for the occasional architect building a Tudor home. A current project is the restoration of a skylight for a house in nearby Hoboken. Whatever the scope and nature of the work, it’s done exclusively by hand with soldering irons and glass cutters, pattern shears and lead knives.