Christopher Hoyle

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Charles Barone, Stained Glass Artist

The Hoboken Reporter, March 28, 1984

By Christopher Hoyle

Charles Barone is very proud of his stained glass studios at 8 Thorne Street in Jersey City. He and his wife Barbara have run the studios since 1978, when they started with 50 dollars. Now they feel that they are coming into their own.

Their creed is quality; the commitment to doing their job all the way, even if it means asking a little more. "People think that you can't get glass like they made it years ago, and to some degree that's true, but if you really want it, you can get it," advises Barbara.

One knowledgeable New Jersey official commended the Barone studio as a Cadillac among Volkswagens of the business. Charles, a Jersey City native, feels good about his work, and betrays a definite enthusiasm about the rejuvenation of the area, including Hoboken, Weehawken and North Bergen. Another point of commendation is that his studio is certified by the State of New Jersey as a preservationist. His growing clientele boasts a "98 percent return record," so Charles airs his optimism very freely.

"This area is growing like I've never seen it grow," remarks Charles on the influx of new businesses and residents who desire a new or restored stained glass window, and are looking for "something rare, something different." Charles has worked with many houses in Hoboken, tackling jobs in "interior doorways, landing windows, transoms, all kinds of things." A notable example of customer loyalty is Juanita Roland, whose "whole house is faceted by our stained glass. Bedroom, kitchen, everything."

Equally important are the businesses who come to Charles for art work. Many of these are restaurants, including Lady Jane's and the Hoboken House, which was the first commercial commission for the studio in 1978. Helmars Restaurant at 1036 Washington Street in Hoboken has commissioned to do its windows commemorating its 50th anniversary. The Old Inn, a new Hoboken restaurant which will be located on Third Street and Clinton, has commissioned Barone to create two six-foot by three-foot windows - one depicting at 1917 doughboy boarding a troop ship, and the other depicting the country's first organized baseball game, which was played at Hoboken's Elysian Field. The Casa Dante in Jersey City boasts beautiful stained glass in addition to a fine cuisine, recommended by the Barones for both.

People become "more than customers. You develop a friendship." Attachments are formed in other ways as well, i.e., with the product they've worked on for often four to eight weeks. "You hate to see them go. Sometimes we'll get dressed up and go out to a place just to see how it looks," says Barbara. In addition to restaurants, their work can be seen in office buildings, such as the D and D Building in New York, on Third Avenue.

Another prominent group of clients is churches, as one might expect. "Churches and Charles Barone Stained Glass Studios develop a very close relationship," says Charles. He has worked with many in the area, of every denomination. One factor that creates a close relationship is the difficulty and magnitude of restoring many churches' glass. It can get hairy "just to remove that old glass. Then it takes a tremendous cleaning to remove 100 years of soot. We've restored windows we thought were completely hopeless."

Unfortunately, many churches hurt for the finances neede to restore their windows, so Barbara might work out special arrangements. "You feel so bad when you see those beautiful churches that need the work." It so happens that in the Barones' business, their product is more than an object; it becomes a living art work that inspires an emotional reaction.

The first such reaction for Charles, which sparked him to enter the world of stained glass, occurred at the Hudson County Courthouse, in Jersey City. That was in 1975, when he was working in the Architectural Knowledge Program of CETA (Comprehensive Educational Training Assistance). He was working on the restoration of the building when it hit him almost as a revelation that he could restore its stained glass dome.

"Once I walked in the building, stained glass became my life; just from the sight of that dome." Charles was able to supervise much of the restoration of the courthouse, which had deteriorated greatly, including the half-million dollar job on the roof. But the idea of restoring the dome belonged to Charles. He convinced the officials that he could restore it at a reasonable cost. They put their faith in him and it paid off with flying colors and a low budget. A video about the dome, narrated by Allison Steele, then of radio station WNEW-FM, won a national prize. This initial success story won Charles a reputation as a first-rate stained glass craftsman, which enabled him to move into the business, and the art, that has absorbed his life ever since.

Other creations that the Barones are proud of are the Weehawken Town Hall, with its enormous stained glass ceiling, and a tribute to the late Yankee catcher Thurman Munson, which graces the Yankees' Stadium Club. Both have received effusive praise. Of the town hall ceiling, which was cleaned and painted, people say "I never knew that was there! It's beautiful!" In regard to the Thurman Munson piece, Charles received a letter of admiration and gratitude from Yankee owner George Steinbrenner. Charles is especially proud of his "Holy Spirit Window," which he donated to the Ursaline Nuns in Cleveland, in memory of the sisters who were killed in El Salvador.

It is a Barone trademark to get involved in the work and what it means, which is why they are such sticklers for high grade, 100 percent workmanship. Charles declares "Artists are the only people in the world who put something together that is ingenious, blessed by that thing we call Heaven."

It is obvious that the Barones love what they do. Barbara explains that the art "has no language barriers. It speaks for itself." Their goal is to have the workmanship speak for itself also. They use the highest quality glass available, admitting "There's plenty of cheap glass you could buy, but it doesn't look good at all." The glass is hand rolled instead of machine-rolled, which heightens the quality and the price. A customer pays a little more, "but he gets a genuine antique."

Some people ask Charles how he can use glass of such quality. He explains, "It's a struggle, but I think the end result is worth it. The reputation here is that the customer has found the best that he can find, and we're proud of that. In fact, the customer gets a better deal than we do because we're losing something we put a lot into."

One way the Barones put a lot into a piece is the great detail with which they work. A creation starts with a design worked out with the client. This looks like a jigsaw puzzle in which the glass pieces will fit. Each piece is cut from a sheet, and stained if necessary. Charles makes most of the creative decisions: design, color, painting, etc. The pieces are then fit into a frame of lead. They splurge on what Charles calls "Classical Tiffany Leading," which is uncommon. Then each piece is hand-cemented into place with linseed oil putty which, again, not all studios do. The process can become very time-consuming, especially for a large window. Because of these extras which people do not immediately see, the Barones spend a lot of time educating people about their craft, which they hope will bring them back to the shop.

The Barones are not alone in their workshop. They have a loyal staff of four, each of whom brings his own special talents to the studio. Assisting in the creations are experienced artisans Chris Harding and Rich Capelli, who have been practicing their craft for 12 years and 8 years, respectively. Charles also has a talented young apprentice in Richard Mattern, who works through a work-study program at Dickinson High. The Barones' indispensable "Girl Friday" is Teresa Napolitano, who assists in many aspects of the business. With Charles handling most of the design, and Barbara handling the business aspect, the Barones' team retains a family atmosphere that holds things together.

Both Charles and Barbara are Jersey City natives: Charles a Dickinson graduate and Barbara a Sacred Heart alumnus. Charles went on to the US Navy and then into the family business of heavy construction such as bridges and roads. From there he took fresco classes, Renaissance Art, and eventually moved on to the Architectural Training Program with CETA, the Hudson County Courthouse, and…the rest is history.

Charles retains a strong loyalty to Jersey City, declining an opportunity to locate his business in Fort Lee early on. He believed it could be done in his hometown. And his tenacity has been rewarded. A dream is coming together - making a living at an art he loves while maintaining high standards and ideals. Charles beams with optimism about the future, which looks "brighter and better than ever before."

He also has a new dream: a specific project. "Our future in stained glass is blending [with Jersey City's] in such a way that we have been given permission to undertake a project, in the works, which will be second to none in the State of New Jersey. A structural front façade, facing us, of the bust of the Statue of Liberty, standing at least six feet in height by five feet in width. Holding and encumbering her will be Baroque turn-of-the-century foliage and jewels of all different facets and color, and bevels embracing every nation that passed her waterway. And this featured body will be a reproduction of a Tiffany-type opalescent statue, with all colors and earth tones of actual life. And the sun that rises in the East of New York will glisten her all day. The sun that sets in the West, in Jersey, will highlight the skyscrapers, and those skyscrapers will highlight her from behind."

Not only is he dedicated and proud, but Mr. Barone is also ambitious. After this rather intimidating project, what could be left? "Some day I'll do The Creation," he smiles.

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