Painted or plain by Sasha Ward

Painting on external wall of shed and museum

The village of Zalipie, Małopolska, Poland, is famous for its painted houses. These have been decorated by the women of the village since the late 19th century, with an annual competition and the cottage of the best known painter, Felicja Curyłowa, maintained as a museum. Flowers dominate the traditional, (dare I say it) formulaic designs; although it's fun to see painting on the electric trunking and the rabbit cages, we did start to wonder whether there was just too much decoration, and for my taste (trunking excepted) not enough geometry.

Electric trunking and rabbit cages

Sitting room of Felicja Curyłowa and the equivalent room in an unpainted interior next door.

One of the reasons given for the outburst of internal nineteenth century decoration is that the introduction of external cottage chimneys meant the rooms were no longer blackened by soot. The sitting room of Felicja Curyłowa's beautifully maintained cottage (above left) is dominated by the stove. You wonder at its marvellous, warm shape disguised by flowers whose charm, by now, has started to fade. When you visit the cottage next door help is at hand - in its whitewashed interior you can appreciate the sculptural blocks that make up the stove and see the wood that the cottage is made of.

The cottage next door, front windows inside and outside

On the way we had looked at an abandoned cottage with fine detailing in its decorative porch and windows, beautiful corner joints visible, unpainted. Similarly, the sheds in Zalipie using light pigment on dark wood, traditionally clay with wood ash on soot covered backgrounds, looked great - more simple (below). Simple in form, and therefore to my eyes preferable to the bouquets, are the blue flowers in stripes on the exterior of Felicja's cottage (above right) on a strong ochre background.

On the road home, in a village near the Vistula, I was thrilled to see another painted cottage that I actually liked. More strong colours and a pattern that relates to the shape of the building, with ochre spilling out of the roadside window and three huge triangles marching along its side.

Drawing from the roof, Stopnica by Sasha Ward

Glass panel beautifully installed in internal window & view from sitting room showing all 3 panels

Glass panel beautifully installed in internal window & view from sitting room showing all 3 panels

In a departure from my usual working methods, I made some windows in 2015 without knowing exactly where they would go - I described the commission in a previous post here www.sashaward.co.uk/blog/2015/7/8/transformation  Last year, I made a third window for the house in Stopnica, Poland and this year we visited. It was a massive relief to see the windows fitting in so well with their surroundings and in particular with the colours used in the local vernacular architecture - of the old variety.

Fanlight windows, Transformation I & II installed in the house in Stopnica

Fanlight windows, Transformation I & II installed in the house in Stopnica

Drawing station on the roof: looking towards mansion no 1

Drawing station on the roof: looking towards mansion no 1

The architecture of the new variety is equally fascinating, with mansions springing up on plots all around my friends' modest ochre house. I took a chair on to the roof, my favourite type of drawing station, and drew in each direction. All my drawings are dominated by the distinctive bulbous roofs and dormer windows of the new houses that are bordered by undulating concrete panels - the shape uncannily echoed in the lines on my glass.

View towards town & mansion no 2: a favourite local colour combination, ochre & plum

View towards town & mansion no 2: a favourite local colour combination, ochre & plum

The best view looks west into the setting sun, where the road goes past a nice pair of decorative gates and into town. This area (south central Poland, just north of the river Vistula) is full of wooden architecture - more about the painted houses later.

View of the house: view from the roof showing mansion no 3 & site of future mansion no 4 behind workshop

View of the house: view from the roof showing mansion no 3 & site of future mansion no 4 behind workshop

Envelope Collection by Sasha Ward

Entrance drum, Swindon Central Library

My envelope collection has been put to use again. The opportunity came in the form of an exhibition, The Female Aesthetic - Women in the Public Domain, opening this week to coincide with International Women's Day. The exhibition explores the Thamesdown Public Art Archive, choosing work by women from the heyday of public art commissioning in Swindon, or that's how it seemed when we moved to the region in the 1980s. My exhibits are two designs printed on vinyl, one in the windows of the library entrance drum (above) and the other in the Window Gallery nearby (below).

Window vinyls in No 9 Gallery, Artsite, Swindon

I've been collecting patterns from envelope innards ever since I've had a studio. I used them, enlarging and pulling apart the lines that make up the intricate designs, in my commission for Swindon's new hospital in 2002. From talking to people about this piece - a back lit, full height glass wall (below) - I have come to realise that the envelope pattern story really interests them, maybe because it helps to answer the familiar question "Where do you get your ideas from?" 

The Chaplaincy, Great Western Hospital Swindon, 2002    Envelope patterns used in the hospital commission

Detail of Envelope Frieze in Swindon Library

It seemed a good idea to make a link back to that commission in my new work and to make the envelopes more obvious, celebrating their shapes as they fly along the window strip or around a central point in the Gallery Rose Envelope Window.

My collection isn't growing very fast anymore as letters hardly ever arrive and the envelopes are mostly swaps. In desperation I've started to include company logos and even just repeated words, reinforcing the fact that there are only a certain number of patterns, and their variations, in the world. 

Harry Stammers, Lady Chapel by Sasha Ward

On entering St. Mary Redcliffe, Bristol                                              Bursting into prayer inside The Lady Chapel

On entering St. Mary Redcliffe, Bristol                                              Bursting into prayer inside The Lady Chapel

If you need your faith in twentieth century stained glass restored, go and see Harry Stammers' windows for The Lady Chapel in St. Mary Redcliffe, Bristol. Even on entering the church the colour is overpowering, the windows are amazing from a distance and so amazing when you are in the chapel that people were bursting into prayer in front of them. I have included a photo of every window here, but still they do not convey how well the stained glass, rich and beautiful both in overall design and in the detailed painting, works in its setting. There is a complete set of five large windows made from 1960-65, the colours becoming stronger from the front to the back (east) wall, where the central nativity window is filled with colour and detail arranged in a satisfying pattern of blocks and columns.

Nativity window

Nativity window

Angels at the top of the nativity window

Angels at the top of the nativity window

After much reflection, I chose the red and yellow angels (above) as my favourite part of the scheme: it's the part that sings out from a distance and is full of the silverstain/red flashed glass pattern-making that is a distinguishing characteristic of the work of  Harry Stammers (see Jane Brocket's blog on the subject here).

Other sections that fascinated me were Mary lying on straw (below) painted in exactly the way that I show grass and straw in my coloured glass, and the three blue columns that turn into figures when you look at them closely (below right).

Details from the centre and the bottom right of the nativity window

Details from the centre and the bottom right of the nativity window

Windows 2 & 4 (either side of the nativity window)

Windows 2 & 4 (either side of the nativity window)

The other four windows contain large amounts of clear glass, something that I hold against a lot of mid twentieth century stained glass, especially in churches where these types of windows are contrasted with older, less transparent ones. However, here the white and tinted glass sections are not cut into diamond-shaped quarries only, there are some beautifully designed passages where the diamonds change into irregular shapes as they border the blocks of colour.

South facing window & detail from it

South facing window & detail from it

North facing window from inside and outside

North facing window from inside and outside

The high ratio of transparent glass, coupled with the crisp linear painting style, also allows some of the images to be read from the outside, at least on the north side where the light shines right through the chapel.

The whole series of windows shows the life of Mary alongside other female saints, figures from familiar bible stories and groups of people dressed in the clothes of the 1950s and 60s. But I find, as usual, that I am more interested in the abstract/pattern-making qualities that you can find in every panel - like the towers of diamonds pointing to the fabulous jade green triangle (below left). Right at the bottom is a section full of shapes covered in a network of lines and brush marks, so that each piece of blue glass is like a beautiful miniature painting.

Two Churches in Shrewsbury by Sasha Ward

I wandered into these two Shrewsbury churches, St. Alkmund's and St. Chad's, by chance. I found two amazing interiors featuring huge and distinctive stained glass windows with the sort of painted detail - soft clouds and hills and panoramas - that has always inspired my own work.

St. Alkmund's: clear leaded glass window & The Francis Eginton window

St. Alkmund's has windows of plain glass in wonderful leaded patterns and an enamelled window behind the altar. It was painted by Francis Eginton of Birmingham in 1795 and recently restored. It is based on a painting, The Assumption of the Virgin by Guido Reni, but the landscape and background to the figure are the interesting part and quite different from Reni's painting. Through fabulous purple and yellow smoky clouds you can make out details of scenery, layers of depth and intricate detail.

Foreground thistle, bottom left:  background hills, centre right

More than half of the window is sky, the translucent billowing clouds achieved by painting and firing vitreous enamel on layers of glass that are framed in a cast iron gilded grid. The grid seems to work particularly well with the top section where the clouds make a pattern, or an abstract composition.

Top of Eginton's St. Alkmund's window

St. Chad's: window by David Evans & detail showing left hand panel with leaded cloud and little vignette below

St. Chad's is the only grade 1 listed circular Georgian church in England, the interior is lofty and decorative. There are many patterned windows, but also a series from the 1840s by a Shrewsbury stained glass artist, David Evans. His windows include one behind the altar that is also based on a painting, Ruben's The Descent From The Cross. Here it was a dazzling little vignette at bottom left that caught my eye. The shape of the hole, the bright light it transmits and the hardly visible painted details seem to me a great use of the medium - again the glass is cut in a rectangular grid. As a contrast, look at the cloud detail above it, a lead line delineating its edge - could anything be less cloud like?

Interior of St. Chad's showing two of the David Evans window and a landscape with cloud detail from another

In one of the soft, panoramic landscapes that I particularly like, lead lines also do a bad job around the edge of a hillside (below right). From the same window comes an example where the lead lines are either hidden in the painting or part of an unobtrusive grid, techniques that will be familiar to people taught traditional stained glass. It shows two figures and a tree in front of a blue hole that creates another little eye-catching vignette.

Details from "Lazarus Come Forth" one of four windows by Evans donated by Reverend Richard Scott 1842