Labor of love
Chandeliers have put Meredith McIntosh in some distinguished company
When people and organizations in Warren County need their chandeliers cleaned, there is a clear choice — Meredith McIntosh.
The Struthers Library Theatre has a number of chandeliers.
And McIntosh has been working on them.
She and her group of helpers from the Woman’s Club of Warren have been cleaning the four chandeliers on the mezzanine level piece by piece.
There is a lot to remember, but the actual cleaning is very simple. “They accumulate dust, but they clean up beautifully,” McIntosh said. “They’re easily cleaned with soap, water, and ammonia.”
She adds that it is important to hand-dry each piece.
The crystals are removed from the body of the chandelier and individually cleaned. That leads to the hard part.
“The tricky part is keeping the same style of crystal in its pattern,” she said. “You take it down, clean it, and put it back exactly as the designer created it.”
McIntosh uses different colored pipe cleaners to help identify certain locations.
Each of the smaller chandeliers at the theater would take McIntosh about four hours to clean working alone. With four helpers, that time is cut down as McIntosh can focus on making sure the crystals are in exactly the same orientation at the end as they were in the beginning.
There are so many pieces that keeping track of them is a challenge. “I spend more time looking for things I’ve put down,” she said.
McIntosh was never a full-time chandelier cleaner. It’s a labor of love.
“To do it as a volunteer gives me pleasure,” she said.
Not every small town has a chandelier cleaner. It’s more common in cities, where there are simply many more chandeliers.
McIntosh learned her craft in New York City.
“I met a gal named Kathy Mathis,” McIntosh said. “She was dating a guy who owned a chandelier business.”
“He and his crew went all around the country,” she said. “They traveled to these lovely hotels and dining rooms.”
McIntosh paid a visit to the Manhattan office. “I said, ‘I would really like to learn how to do this,'” she said.
Zenny Deblinger of Crystal Maintenance gave her a shot and McIntosh went along with the crew to the Waldorf Astoria luxury hotel in New York.
“I was all thumbs,” she said.
But she got the hang of it. After a few months, “I just stepped out there and did it,” she said.
She has cleaned chandeliers in the British Embassy in Washington D.C., and at the British ambassador’s residence in Manhattan.
“I was part of a team of five when Lady Diana and Charles came before they got married. There were numerous large chandeliers in the dining room… and the ballroom.”
The work generally kept McIntosh in the vicinity of high society. She sat at a restaurant next to Neil Sedaka, who asked “Are you an actress?”, passed Dick Clark on the street, and saw Bob Hope walking his dog.
“I’ve met some interesting people along the way,” she said.
On her way to New York for a job, McIntosh was in the ladies room at the Jamestown, N.Y., airport.
She commented on a woman’s “tropical dress.”
The woman thanked her, but said she felt, “rough washed,” then explained that her mother described a garment that was clean, but not ironed, as rough washed. She did not have an ironing board in her hotel room.
“I have an iron right here,” McIntosh told her.
The woman thanked her again, removed the dress, and they talked as she ironed.
She was an opera singer who had been studying at Chautauqua Institution. Her name was Marvis Martin.
“I’m making my debut at the Met in the fall,” she told McIntosh. “Would you come to my opening reception?”
McIntosh did indeed attend. The reception was at the home of soprano Martina Arroyo where Martin introduced McIntosh by saying, “we met doing my laundry in the ladies room at the Jamestown, N.Y., airport.”
McIntosh organized an effort to clean up Shea’s Performing Arts Center in Buffalo. “I went there as a volunteer,” she said. “I tried to organize some of the members of the theater guild.”
It was difficult to find enthusiastic help at Shea’s. The mayor, even members of the guild, did not see the need.
Shea’s is a “theater palace,” McIntosh said.
The golden era of the theater was in the 1920s and 1930s. “Theaters were fancy,” she said. “They were called crystal palaces.”
But, like many theater palaces, Shea’s hit on hard times, McIntosh said. Rough events and rough crowds left their marks. “All these theater palaces were on the down hill,” she said. Some closed.
That trend is turning around. “Now, theaters are becoming more popular,” she said.
The chandeliers McIntosh was cleaning on Tuesday reportedly came from a closed theater in Cincinnati. “They are really good quality crystal,” she said. “These may have come from a closed theater palace.”
There is plenty of work for McIntosh.
“There are numerous homes in Warren that have elegant crystal chandeliers including the Hospice House,” McIntosh said. She also cleans the chandelier in the Warren County Courthouse Main Courtroom every two years.