HAVANA, Nov 15. Magic of light and color: the art of stained glass flourished over the centuries in Havana, where restoration work has allowed these jewels of Cuban architecture to be preserved.“We want to keep alive a craft that it would be wonderful not to lose,” explains Mirell Vázquez, 44, a stained glass restoration teacher at the Havana workshop school, a training institution in arts and crafts, to AFP.
In Cuba, the “colonial style” was first developed in homes with fan-shaped polychrome stained glass windows and wooden moldings that filtered sunlight and are now seen as a symbol of Old Havana, founded in the 16th century.
Later, at the beginning of the 20th century, styles from Europe began to mix among the large mansions of the wealthy families of the capital, offering an incredible variety of stained glass windows, initially imported from Spain and France, and then locally made.
In Vedado, which emerged in those years as a luxury neighborhood and where the most beautiful houses in Havana are located – most of them now owned by the State and in various states of conservation – “constructions and fortunes developed at the same time.” time,” explains Vázquez.
This expert has identified some 500 historic stained glass windows in the area, where wealthy families linked to industries such as sugar resided.
And “once you put stained glass in an interior, you are conveying harmony,” she adds.
Thus, the winter garden of a bourgeois mansion, now transformed into a museum, displays an impressive stained glass window with floral motifs that combine opaline and the grisaille technique, a type of paint used specifically for stained glass windows.
The staircase of another house, the current headquarters of the Union of Journalists of Cuba, is adorned with a stained glass window from the workshop of the dynasty of French master glassmakers Champigneulle.
“Very aggressive” weather
But, with humidity that can exceed 85% and sudden changes in temperature during the rainy season, the “Cuban climate is very aggressive” for stained glass, says Vázquez, who supervises a team of five young Cubans trained at the school. -workshop and in charge of restoration work.
Linda Viamontes de la Torre, 32 years old, has been a member of that team for two years. After completing a health specialty, she trained as a stained glass technician and collaborated in the restoration of the stained glass windows of two churches in Havana.
“It is very satisfying (…) to see what state it was in before (the stained glass) and when it takes its original form,” explains the young woman, who is now restoring pieces of work from a neo-Gothic church in Vedado.
Fractures, missing pieces and deformed lead are the most frequent problems faced by restorers, also forced to deal with the lack of materials in a country with multiple deficiencies due to the economic crisis.
The existence in Havana of the best-stained glass windows in the entire Caribbean and highly qualified restorers motivated UNESCO and the European Union to invite a dozen young people from the region to train them in these techniques.
The initiation workshop to learn the basic techniques and theory was carried out within the framework of a broader cultural cooperation program called Transcultural.
On her first visit to the Cuban capital, Chloe Cadet (26), a design student from Trinidad and Tobago, was surprised by the richness of its “historical architectural heritage” and “its good state of preservation”, compared to that of her country.
During the course, “we have learned from the history of glass, to how the type of glass used is manufactured, the chemical products, preparation, cutting, handling of glass, safety measures,” says Franklin Alberto Sánchez (32), from the National Conservation Center of the Dominican Republic.
“In my country, there is no possibility of training regarding the restoration and conservation” of stained glass. Havana “was the best place to do this workshop,” he concluded.