A Very Potted History of Stained Glass

I used to have this history page on my website but thats so full of ‘stuff’ now that I had to move it. It’s back here with a few updates!

Stained glass is unique in the world of art in that it is the only medium to fully exploit the relationship between glass and light. Light is an intangible phenomenon and since the dawn of time has been associated with philosophies and religions. It symbolizes life, goodness, revelation and beauty.

The desire of the early architects to bring this light to life and to educate a mostly illiterate congregation brought about the golden age of Gothic architecture and stained glass.
The Medieval Christian Church used coloured glass deliberately, aware that colour and light are both spiritual and sensual.
We still look in amazement at the beauty of a rainbow and marvel at the pureness of its colours. The rainbow, according to the book of Genesis, was Gods covenant with man after the Flood.
At the end of the Dark Ages there was a boom in church building and these churches and cathedrals were filled with colour and light. Difficult to imagine what the people thought of this as they gazed at these pictures and stories brought to them in this way. They would have never seen any thing so beautiful or spiritual.
It is hard to trace the exact origins of stained glass. It does have some similarities in materials and techniques used by the goldsmith for cloisonné enamelling. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloisonne 
Its not beyond imagination to think that the first stained glass artists saw the goldsmith running his band of gold around glass or filling it with enamel and decided to try it with glass. Using a cheaper alternative, lead, and with the advent of the invention of lead milling and casting, it was then possible to hold the glass together in large portable panels.
These artists then discovered that iron filings ground together with flux and powdered glass could be painted onto the surface of the glass pieces. When fired in a kiln to melting point and cooled they were able to produce glass pieces with detail on such as faces, hands and drapery.
The earliest surviving examples of painted stained glass are the head of Christ from the abbey church at Wissembourg in Alsace from around 1060AD
and the famous five prophet windows in Augsburg Cathedral Middle of 12th Century.                          
  These windows show us that there are already styles and techniques being used that one would expect from a practised artist.
This is a detail from a 16th century window in St Marys Church, Fairford and depicts a two headed Satan illuminated by the glow of hell. Love these windows!
There was a revival of stained glass in the nineteenth century. With the advent of the Gothic Revival the artists and architects of the time designed using forms and patterns that had been used in the middle ages. They combined serious study with romantic visions of romance and chivalry. Two major artist of this time were William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones.
Edward Burne Jones was the most influential stained glass designer of the late 19th Century.
The link below will take you to a brief history and some pictures of his work.
The techniques and materials I use differ very little from those used by the earliest stained glass artists and craftsmen. There is a larger colour range of glass available, the tools have been improved with time and designs and styles change year after year but the basics are still those of an ancient tradition. That being the case I feel honoured to be following in their footsteps. We stained glass artists of today are taking stained glass to a new dimension. Adding fused and textured detail and also by encapsualting the panels into sealed units to save energy. As with any craft it is evolving year on year and we embrace change with great enthusiasm, as it will bring yet another way of working or another style to our work. And like all artists it is this that keeeps us awake at night designing!

Repairing our little gems of Domestic Stained Glass

Stained glass is the term usually used to describe highly elaborate painted church windows and domestic leaded glass is generally called leaded light. However now there are occasions when stained glass is used to great effect within a domestic setting. 
In 1840 the Gothic Revival was just beginning with renewed interest in all things Medieval. Very soon the Arts and Crafts movement were promoting the use of leaded lights in a domestic setting and this was usually around the front door. These panels most usually depict floral motifs and natural forms. Some stained glass in the more grand houses, had painted detail too such as birds or local scenes depicted in roundels. These days we take this form of decoration in domestic architecture very much for granted in buildings of a certain age. Of course being a stained glass artist myself, I am still excited when I am asked to work on these little historic gems! Lead cames have a life of approximately 100 years so its no surprise that there is a steady stream of front entrance panels in need of some tender loving care and expertise. A recent project I have worked on is just one of these beautiful windows dating from the 1890’s. 

Taped to avoid falling apart

The door had recently slammed and as the lead was very weak the centre had ‘popped’. There was a risk of the whole painted bird roundel dropping out and so, as I was unable to get to site for a few weeks my customer took the sensible decision to apply a sticky tape to the inside and out to protect it from falling! 

A comprehensive rubbing, much like a brass rubbing.

Once in the studios my first jobs were to remove the tape and to take a rubbing of the panel. The lines represent the centre of all leads and I use this as a guide to cut new pieces of glass and to lead the panel back together. On this rubbing I made notes on the lead sizes, the position of the strengthening bars and the sizes.

Taking apart the old lead

Then I started to carefully dismantle the stained glass. There were some previous repairs and also a few badly broken pieces of glass. I wanted to retain as much of the original glass as possible but in some cases this was out of the question. I was able to source glass of the closest possible match for these areas. 

All glass cleaned and new pieces cut

Once apart I can recut any badly broken pieces and clean the glass ready for leading.

Leading can begin, note the traditional horseshoe nails used to hold the glass and lead together in progress.

I lead the panel together using leads of the same width and profile as the original. Then I apply a tallow flux to each joint in preparation for soldering.

Tallow to act as a flux for the solder

I use a gas soldering iron for soldering my stained glass. The electric soldering irons are great for a hobby and for copper foil work but when faced with acres of leaded lights to restore I need the constant heat from a traditional iron. Standing waiting for the electric iron to re-heat is not an option in a professional studio! I show the iron here with a yellow flame so you can see it but usually I have it on full with a hot blue flame.

My treasured glass iron!
When the panel has been soldered I can then cement it and give it a final clean before soldering on the copper ties. We use these to fix it to the bars withing the door as added strength.
Then we fit the panel and it is back to its former glory. Hopefully it will be good and sturdy for another 100 years or so (door slamming not recommend!)
And the window is in.
Sparkling and looking great.

Books, do we really need them?

The children’s Summer holiday is a fantastic time to have a good clear out of the workshop, done! Fewer distractions as so many people are away. So now I have more space, yippee. New book shelves are already groaning under the weight of my books on glass. I have to admit that I am a hopeless book lover. The smell of a new book, the feel of the new pages and the way it slides perfectly onto the shelf,finding its home between the Andy Goldsworthy,’Wood’ and the Calendar of Saints. The anticipation as we wait for the Amazon parcel to drop in the post box (we have no letter box!) That rare half hour we snatch on the way to the shops as we divert from our food shopping duty and slink guiltily into the bookshop to peruse the art book shelf yet again. Ooo I haven’t got that one,and yet another book finds a new home. The joy of discovering an old bookshop tucked away in a side street. Children raise their eyes to the heavens as I HAVE to pop in. The musty old smell of books transports me back to somewhere in my childhood and I surreptitiously open a book and sniff!
Have I got enough books on glass and art? Of course not I just need a bigger studio to house them all!

Playing with Glass!

It never ceases to amaze me how different 3 pieces of leaded glass can be! All made within inches of each other (well the workshop is certainly not palatial!) Friday 3rd September saw the first of my autumn stained glass courses followed by another on Saturday. I teach 3 student at a time on the leading course. This has turned out to be my magic number. With 4 of us milling around in the studio it’s cosy without being too cramped. Your tuition is almost one-one without the intensity of me looking over your shoulder all the time. Without fail we always ‘click’, after all we are there for the same reason, the love of glass and wanting to try something new.
The day starts with a cuppa and chat. We look at our drawings (or lack of) and decide what we are going to make. I have loads of drawings and inspiration here so there is no problem if you turn up with just your enthusiasm!
Then we get down to drawing our cutline.

This drawing is the guide you will use to cut your glass and to lead it all together. 
It stays with us through the whole process and each line represents the heart of the H section lead. Following this we have a little practice at cutting glass. Its not that easy for everyone but I do have a few different styles of glass cutter and in the end we usually find one which works for you. Of course I am happy to cut for you too, especially the very tricky pieces.

Then we have the best bit of the day ……………LUNCH. By this time you will need a sit down a cup of tea and a chat! If the weather is good we sit in the garden but in the winter we cosy up next to the Rayburn in the house.
The afternoon is a bit more relaxed as we lead the pieces of glass together. I love leading and find this part of the process particularly therapeutic!

Soldering follows this, the waving about of a flame! Do not fear most people find this such fun!!
Then a brief instruction into cementing process which I do for you over the next few days. We also stand about a bit by this time admiring our handy work and chatting to our new friends. The panels below were made on Friday 3rd and Saturday 4th September.
An amazing 86 people have so far made panel with me in 2010. Goodness knows how many chocolate biscuits and cups of tea and coffee have been drunk!!