I've had a lot of fun making stained glass panels of marrying couples' initials (as presents) over the last few years. However, as fellow makers will know, having a lot of fun isn't the same thing as doing a good piece of work. When I started this week's panel, I decided to make it look like fun, with a jaunty angle and a rainbow. I haven't photographed every panel I've made, one I remember (M&J) doesn't even appear in the pages of a sketchbook. And a note to self: dating your work adds so much interest, I wish I'd done it more.
This summer I installed a commission in the garden of Booth House, a Salvation Army Lifehouse in Swindon. It's a donations panel, with removable glass tiles so that names can be added to the work, mounted on a fence and therefore with no back lighting. These constraints made it a technically complicated commission so I photographed the stages of making, showing how the glass went from a pile of strips in my studio (above left) to the finished piece at the bottom of this post.
The design also had to incorporate contributions from the residents of Booth House who were invited to join glass workshops. Their sgraffito drawings on enamelled glass tiles with inscriptions in mirror writing really enlivened the simple composition. This is based on rows of staggered plants climbing up an imaginary trellis. Everything from the workshops was included in the finished artwork so the design changed and grew during the making process.
When you take your work outside, it suddenly looks very small, dwarfed by the big wide world. To fill a reasonable amount of space on the fence, I worked out that I needed to make 72 pieces of glass, each measuring 120mm x 250-350mm. Every piece is unique - with a tiny number scratched in the enamel after the first layer of green/brown painting and firing (top right). The second layer of painting added plain colours as backgrounds for the names, these commemorate people and organisations who have made donations of various kinds to Booth House.
That was really the fun part over. The fired pieces had to be taken to the tougheners, then brought back to the studio along with 72 pieces of mirrored glass slightly taller than the enamelled pieces to create tiles with two stepped edges, able to slide in and out of the frame. Next I cut three layers of laminating stuff and taped them between the enamelled and mirrored glass, ready for lamination. The last process was sandblasting names onto the front of some of the tiles. And the most time consuming part of the process - scraping off the stuff that oozes out during lamination - didn't even appear on my master list. The piles of glass pieces looked great, really bright and reflective on a sunny day in the studio (below left). The colours of our green, shady garden were reflected when I piled them on the table outside.
The frame for the glass pieces is an ingenious thing devised by friend and neighbour Fred Baier. We customised strips of composite decking material and slotted them together on two boards which we installed on a section of fence that creates a little corner. The colours on a summer's day couldn't be brighter, with reflections from the garden and the wall opposite and a spectacular merging of colours, names and patterns at the corner joint. I took a photo from Spring Gardens car park that overlooks the garden, of one of the residents looking for her painted piece (bottom right), showing how the mirrored enamel stands out even from such a distance.
I was travelling through Oxfordshire, "church crawling" as I believe it's called, when I drove straight past the wonderful sight of one set of stained glass windows visible through the other. Unusually this church, St James' Aston, was open, empty and very light inside, with a coordinated set of patterned windows and a few commemorative figurative ones that I ignored.
The even light of a dull summer's day was perfect for viewing and photographing the stained glass. There are 18 of these lancet windows with up to three medallions of coloured glass, crazy patchwork style, in each with a dedication below. I have always loved this way of making stained glass, it's as fun to look at as it is to make, with unexpected juxtapositions and colour combinations. These fragments don't look that old and could some of them have been made especially for the scrap box (cheating in my book)? The latest date on a dedication panel is 1970, that's all I've been able to find out about the windows so far.
These top two ovals are my favourites; like many of the ones shown here the medallion is centred around a face, expressive, poignant or sliced down the middle. I really admire the compositional skill of the artist who put these together, I stayed for ages gazing up at them. Scroll down for more photos, all of them are from the eight nave windows, and as usual, click on an image to enlarge.
The Church of St. Martin's, Low Marple, near Stockport, was designed and built in 1869 -70 by the Arts and Crafts architect, John Dando Sedding. 'The Firm' (Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co.) made three windows for the church; the east window (above), includes figures designed by Burne-Jones, William Morris, Ford Madox Brown and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Visitors come specially to look at this example of a faulty and unrestored window by the firm. As with many windows from this period by a number of stained glass companies, the paintwork quickly deteriorated - came off, not faded as the guidebooks incorrectly say. This defect, caused by using borax in the paint, was something that William Morris corrected by repainting and firing much of the glass in the firm's early windows, but not this one. Here, the appearance of the mostly unpainted glass, with details and patterns removed, reveals the overall design of the window in quite an appealing way.
You can learn a lot about stained glass techniques from this window. As you can see in the detail (above right), the silverstain (transparent gold colour) is still there in WM's familiar self portrait as St. Peter although most of the opaque black lines have gone. The comparison with the same figure from Beaudesert also helps.
Since I've started looking at stained glass by Morris & Co. I've had a lot of fun spotting the reappearance of figures throughout their works in tapestry and embroidery as well as stained glass. In this church I found a fourth version of Burne-Jone's Mary, with its paintwork almost intact.
The church is also notable for slightly later works by Christopher Whall. The Lady Chapel, with an eccentric 3D ceiling and an altar painting of The Annunciation, is worth going to see. And in his beautiful West Window is a character I had seen and admired recently in Leicester Cathedral (below). It is interesting to compare the differences in colour, background pattern and detail in the two versions of essentially the same figure.
I generally identify the stained glass of Christopher Whall by the way he paints people's facial features. The faces of the angels in the great East Window in Leicester Cathedral are typical. When you zoom in on the little people in the boat in the otherwise untypical Whall South West window at Low Marple (below) you can tell that this window is one of his.
I found this one by chance when church crawling in the Vale of The White Horse, near Uffington, the territory of William Morris, John Betjeman and John Piper. St John the Baptist is a small 12th century church, allegedly founded in response to pagan worship on nearby White Horse Hill. The interior was largely untouched by the Victorians and it has recently had a thorough restoration. There are relatively large areas of 14th century wall paintings, 15th - 17th century woodwork and an interesting selection of stained glass windows.
I'm getting better at guessing the makers of 19th century stained glass, but there is no need in this church. The obviously interesting window with the arts & crafts style red sky (below left) and foliage has a very legible makers' name handwritten in a way you don't often see (below right) under the title, as if it's a line in an exercise book.
Next, at the belfry end of the church, there appeared to be a smallish Kempe window (below left). There is the general greeny yellowness of the glass and the peacock feather wings, but I mostly identify Charles Eamer Kempe windows by the facial features of, in this case, the three saints. I was very pleased to see his identifying maker's symbol in the bottom left of the window - a castle in a wheat sheaf (below right).
There are two fragmentary windows to the right of the altar, shown up beautifully on a dull day with soft light and trees as a backdrop. I would say the green man in silverstain is medieval glass. The other is a piece of painted and etched glass patched together, showing a crest with a fabulously easy latin motto: VIRTUS IN ACTIONE CONSISTIT. The date of this one is, for me, hard to guess.