glass painting

The Appreciation of Stained Glass by Sasha Ward

dorset.jpg

On a beautiful day in Dorset, here I am in front of a cricket pitch on my way into Milton Abbey to appreciate some stained glass. Once inside, the abbey opens into a magnificent tall transept. On the north side is a monument to the Damers underneath a heraldic window bordered by roses and on the south side a huge tree of Jesse window designed by AWN Pugin and made by Hardmans, in typically vivid colours.

Left, south transept window above monument to Joseph & Caroline Damer. Right, Tree of Jesse window by Pugin, 1847.

Left, south transept window above monument to Joseph & Caroline Damer. Right, Tree of Jesse window by Pugin, 1847.

However, I was not in Milton Abbas for the abbey but rather to see a Lawrence Lee window in St James Church in the famous landscaped village street. I’ve never knowingly seen a Lee window, but he wrote a book “The Appreciation of Stained Glass” which was one in the series on the appreciation of the arts published by the Oxford University Press. That was in 1977, the year that I went to the Central School of Art to do my Foundation Course and to learn how to make stained glass properly - in preparation I read Lee’s book thoroughly. Re reading it now I can see where I picked up many of my stained glass dos and don’ts based on the study of church windows - in particular lots of don’ts and harsh opinions on celebrated twentieth century windows.

Left, in front of the 1970 Lee window (I usually need a chair for taking photos). Right, the top of the window

Left, in front of the 1970 Lee window (I usually need a chair for taking photos). Right, the top of the window

I particularly like his chapter on (glass) painting which is one of the few to show an example of his own work, a distinctive head of St. Columba. Just from those few images I would have recognised these figures anywhere, and I’ve concluded that it’s his figures I particularly like, when usually it’s the figures in a window that I hate. These, St Catherine and the Virgin Mary shown below, remind me of inky black and white book illustration of the same period. Here is a passage from the painting chapter that is good to bear in mind when on these church visiting trips :

“The argument will always go on between those who make and those who talk about what is made - and it is very useful to both parties that it should be so. I believe, however, that in the context of this Appreciation of the Arts Series we ought to instruct ourselves to look, filtering out as far as possible any purely mental questions about dates, styles, authenticities and so on (all that is fun afterwards), so that appreciation becomes an impulsion of our physical self toward’s the artists work We must literally pick up from the very point at which the glass painter’s brush left the glass, seeing what he saw as he laid it aside for firing.”

Lawrence Lee details - left, St Catherine and right, The Virgin and child.

Lawrence Lee details - left, St Catherine and right, The Virgin and child.

Tom Denny window, St Mary, Tarrant Hinton 2000

Tom Denny window, St Mary, Tarrant Hinton 2000

Our route home went through Tarrant Hinton, so we made a stop to see a Tom Denny window. I have seen so much of his work recently that it’s beginning to grow on me - the leading patterns so particular that you can spot one in a church even when driving past. The presence of this small window, on a Dorset landscape theme, is huge with an overall golden glow. Here are some wise words from Denny:

“Colour is the most immediate thing about glass; most of your problems are solved if the colour is right for the place. Although I don’t aim to make glass look as if it were made hundreds of years ago, a happy by-product of the way I work - etching, plating and staining - not only enriches the surface, but creates a visual fragility equivalent to old glass.” From an interview with Tom Denny in Contemporary Stained Glass Artists by Kate Baden Fuller A & C Black 2006.

I forgot to take the outside of the Tarrant Hinton window, so I’ve shown one in Leicester (below) from inside and out. You can see the irregular look of the lead pattern, and also the way that he draws his figures (animals in the Dorset window) as if they are knitted in to the backgrounds. That part of his work hasn’t grown on me yet, perhaps it’s the hardest thing to do well.

One of two Tom Denny 2016 windows in Leicester Cathedral from the inside and the outside.

One of two Tom Denny 2016 windows in Leicester Cathedral from the inside and the outside.

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

Glass Enamel Samples by Sasha Ward

Enamels in the studio

Enamels in the studio

Since I started using glass enamels in 1984 (date verified by original Blythe pot above) I have sampled the products of most enamel suppliers. I have just tried out some ancient looking envelopes of Reusche enamels, very fine but expensive, given to me by a colleague. I save my old enamels for small projects as many of them are now unobtainable because of the elements, including lead, that they contain.  In my favourite range I have completely used up some colours - my best ever test strips are on the windowsill below right, next to the new Reusche samples. 

Colour samples in my studio window                                                    Best ever enamel test strips & recent (smaller) Reusche strips

Colour samples in my studio window                                                    Best ever enamel test strips & recent (smaller) Reusche strips

The test pieces, which I sometimes vary by using dots or another layer of colour going the other way, look great in the studio windows but because they are usually on 6mm (thick) glass, it is hard to use them in stained glass commissions. They have recently been sorted or chucked during the great studio clear out. For our new shed door (below left) I used fifteen sample panels of the mostly brown enamels from a job shown in the photo at top right - complete with notes on colour mixes scratched through the paint. For one of my first ever stained glass commissions (below right) I made fake sample strips, this time texture added with acid etched stripes, an even more deadly substance that I no longer use.

Our shed door, 2014                                                                   Detail from front door commission, 1988

Our shed door, 2014                                                                   Detail from front door commission, 1988

Kelmscott design no. 3 by Sasha Ward

3 glass sketches for the repeat design Kelmscott No. 3

3 glass sketches for the repeat design Kelmscott No. 3

Glass and print versions of the design to show how the repeat works

Glass and print versions of the design to show how the repeat works

I've put my three wallpapers and corresponding glass panels up next to each other in an exhibition about artists' residencies. Design No 3. links Kelmscott Manor with the River Thames and its gardens with clumps of  waterside plants. I'll be tweaking all of these designs in the next few months - seeing them printed on a large scale and all together gives me a great opportunity to evaluate my work from the residency.

The three Kelmscott wallpaper designs installed together in an exhibition at New Brewery Arts

The three Kelmscott wallpaper designs installed together in an exhibition at New Brewery Arts