Over the years I’ve had the privilege of working with a lot of artists who wanted to realise their ideas in glass. This has enabled me to develop ways of making glass that have a unique and unusual appearance, it has been very interesting and fruitful in terms of cross pollinating different techniques. Here are a few examples from our portfolio, featuring artists are Damian Hirst, Matt Collishaw, Luis Enrique Zela-Koort, Craige Aitchison, Henry Shelton, Nick Robinson, Christian Newby, Raphael Loewe.
In this post I want to look at the rich history of stained glass in front doors. We are all familiar with what was once a common sight down every leafy suburb across the country, however, the slow demise of stained glass being used for front doors has continued for the last hundred years. Nowadays we can walk down a street and find that the stained glass has been replaced with cheaper sheets of safety glass with no artistic merit, we have lost over 95% of original stained glass in front doors since its hay-day in Victorian times. The main reason is the cost to have stained glass replaced when it breaks, which is inevitable if the door doesn’t have a sheet of toughened glass fitted to the exterior side to stop it bowing as the door hits the door frame. Walking down a street in a town or city today we see a mixed bag of styles of glass, if the door & frame have been replaced with PVC then the glass will be awful, if wood is retained then it may have stained glass, etched glass or sometimes fused glass. Arguably this is more interesting than a street of stained glass which all looks the same but it remains true that the use of stained glass is still declining as fewer studios manage to survive the costs involved in keeping a small glass studio going. The craft is in trouble and a walk down our streets is testimony to its demise.
Here are a few examples of front doors from our portfolio in an attempt of buck the trend.
At the end of June 2023 we installed a printed glass memorial commissioned by Lord Paul. After some discussion with Lord Paul, who has been a very generous supporter of London Zoo for decades, we were asked to replicate a photograph of the late Lady Paul (1936-2022) using the latest technique of printing permanent ceramic inks onto toughened glass.
Lord Paul, now 93 years old, made his money by building a steel industry from India which is now a global entity, he donated to many good causes as his success grew. His connection to London Zoo is a sad story, his daughter died at the age of 6 from an incurable disease, she spent many hours visiting the animals at the zoo which left a lasting impression on Lord Paul. Named after his daughter, the Ambika foundation has donated to the zoo over the years and his wife Lady Paul is remembered here as a longstanding supporter. Her memorial is in close proximity to the memorial fountain dedicated to her daughter – Ambika.
M Restaurant in Canary Wharf. A new restaurant we were asked to supply kiln cast glass for in 2022. Designer Rene Dekker has done a great job with this huge restaurant which over looks the Thames. The processes involved were kiln casting over the top of heat resistant matt, the glass then melts to the forms cut out at a temperature of 900’C. When the glass has cooled it was then masked with vinyl and sandblasted to create the matt surface, leaving the river clear. It was fitted in front of a long mirror making the river shine.
A renovation of this interesting 1950’s Church in Oxford led to the commissioning of some painted glass in the Choir Loft at the back of the Church. Illustrator Robert Eyles approached me in early 2022 to talk about the project which involved a number of improvements to the church. The new glass was to give figurative presence to Saint Margaret and Saint Alphonsus, there was also to be an illustration of the “Pelican in her Piety” an ancient Christian symbol of self sacrifice.
The size of the individual pieces of painted glass are what make this interesting as lead ‘came’ is usually used to separate smaller pieces of painted glass. With modern glass paints we are now able to paint more colours onto glass than was possible in the past so we can now use ‘float glass’ as a base instead of coloured glass in projects such as this one.
An interesting fact worth noting is that the term ‘Stained Glass’, which is now used ubiquitously to cover almost any decorative glass technique, derives from just one technique : ‘silver staining’. The single technique of applying silver nitrate in the form of powder mixed with water and painted onto the glass, turns the glass yellow after firing in the kiln at 630’C. The technique travelled from the east and arrived in Europe when leaded windows were becoming popular in churches in the 14th century and the term Stained Glass stuck. You can see the technique being used in these pictures, the opaque orange is actually a medium in which the silver nitrate compound is suspended, the medium is wiped off the surface of the glass after firing, the silver ions having been absorbed into the glass permanently, changing it to a transparent yellow.
Another interesting addition to this glass design was the use of Verré Eglomisé, a French technique of applying gold or silver leaf to glass, often to make mirrors but in this case to create halo’s. 24ct Gold leaf was also used in other areas of the church so the new windows work well in this sensitively renovated space.
Web link to : Robert Eyles
Web link to : Corpus Christi Church, Oxford
The Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies (OXCIS) was founded in 1985 and was built over several years on donations. Its Patron is King Charles III, speaking as the Price of Wales said “The Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies has done so much to promote and improve our understanding of the Islamic world. That mission has great importance in our increasingly interdependent world. The relationships between Islam and the West matter more today than ever before.”
We were approached in 2011 to make several fused glass panels to specific geometric designs. What look like thin lead lines are in fact grey glass fused to the brighter colours so each window is a single piece of glass mounted into double glazed units surrounded by intricate wooden carved frames.
Someone, who shall remain anonymous, obsessed with death or at least the symbols that death represents was responsible for a series of commissions we undertook in the 2010’s based on the sculpture ‘For the Love of God‘. In terms of technique these windows represented a new level of detail in the making of stained glass. The background glass was mouth blown in Germany, we then used diamond saws and diamond grinders to make the unusual shapes which were then painted and fired in our gas kiln. The shapes were then put together using copper foil technique, invented by Louis Comfort Tiffany which produces very thin lead lines, in fact the joins are solder, a mix of lead & tin melted onto copper foil wrapping the edges of each piece of glass. With a wider lead border in place the laborious task of applying Swarovski crystals was achieved using a pair of tweezers and UV curing glue, a process which took two weeks to cover both sides of each panel. The crystals first had to be soaked in nitric acid to remove the mirror backing, the smallest crystal measured 0.2mm in diameter, the largest crystals were 6mm, a total of 7000 crystals were needed for each of the 20 adult skull windows – and took ages to make.
Back in 2010 we were approached by an artist company called Science who were renovating a 500 year old mill in the Cotswolds to make some butterflies in stained glass. That initial job led to many others and eventually all the windows in the mill which spread over 4 floors were filled with butterflies. It looked incredible when finished and below are a few images of the work done over the ensuing years. Each butterfly is a unique species and not repeated in any of the 300 + windows. I sourced the images from rare books on lepidoptera and examples were chosen from many different countries some of which I fear may now be extinct. The glass used for the background glass colour were also not repeated so the design had a random quality which meant sourcing glass from Germany, Poland, Russia, USA and France.
The techniques used in making these windows were unique, their refined quality was achieved by dispensing of heavy lead for finely soldered copper foil, diamond saws were used to cut shapes that would otherwise have been impossible using traditional tools. The etching and painting of the glass employed traditional and modern techniques to get the range of texture and colour for these amazing creatures.
This stained glass window has a rich and complex history.
It is called “Hymn to the Creation of Light” and conceived by Professor Raphael Loewe, UCL based on an 11th Century Poem of the same name (by Isaac ben Moses, transcribed below).
In Prof Loewe’s words “The Talmud (Hagigah 12b) describes a scheme of 7 concentric heavens surmounted by the divine Chariot. Isaac ben Moses, who was killed by crusaders in the Rhineland in 1096, made it the theme of a hymn for insertion in the morning thanksgiving the theme of a hymn for insertion in the morning thanksgiving for light (yotser), introducing the-angels’ cry of Holy, Holy, on the Sabbath preceding New Year, traditionally the anniversary of the creation. No English translation has hitherto appeared. Though composed in Hebrew mainly for the Jewish highbrow, it seems to me to resemble aesthetically a mediaeval stained glass window – a major purpose in which was the instruction of an illiterate laity. The windows of Chartres are in fact less than fifty years younger than Isaac’s date of death, and they prompted me to translate his poem not only into 16th- century English but also into a 12th-century-style window design. The artistic scheme is my own; the execution is that of Michael Hall, of University College London.”
I was approached by the New North London Synagogue in 2015 to finally make the window a reality using traditional stained glass making techniques. It was all the same a very detailed design to replicate and took a long time as you may appreciate from the photographs.
We used mainly ‘flashed’ glass which is a mouth blown glass which usually has a clear transparent base glass and a thin layer of colour ‘flashed’ to the surface, in this case blue or red. The thin surface is then removed to allow painting on the clear areas to create depth to the design. Once etched, painted and fired in the kiln it was leaded into 2 halves and mounted into a light box on the wall of the Synagogue in 2015.
HYMN TO THE CREATOR OF LIGHT
‘WINDOW OF SEVEN HEAVENS’
by Isaac ben Moses (11th Century)
God in his might did but enunciate
His Name ineffable, and heav’n to be
On high He summon’d, earth did He create
By his mere utterance – the Word that He
Would to his people speak, and have them hear:
Thus heavens were made clear
By seven assays of his breath refin’d,
That they as one should stand, their hosts cohere
In orbits, each reciprocal align’d,
When his Name’s aspirate his mouth did frame,
So be your praise his Name,
Acknowledge Him on his primeval throne
Who dons his mantl’d majesty – shall man
The true tale of his pow’r presume to scan?
Nay, Him becometh silent praise alone:
His wondrous works, his testimonies sure
They tell, who trust secure
In Him: his storied deeds each age shall press
To tell the next, and so resound his
Teach then mine intellect the way to go,
And make me understand thine ordinance
Who, cleaving to thy testimonies, know
The measure of the heav’n’s vast expanse
From end to end
whose traverse God decreed
Five hundred years would need,
Leagues which their message speak across the world:
Each heav’n’s altitude repeats that meed,
So, too, the air of each space ‘twixt them twirl’d;
Wherein He fashion’d for the sun a tent.
Come, then, the mighty deeds of God survey,
And win the wisdom to keep well your way,
For in their revolutions they present
Acts so tremendous, that the human mind
To awe must be resign’d.
O ye that fear the Lord, do you express
God’s awe in praise, and so resound his
So I recall thy Name, that therein I
May make my boast, and ever hymn that Name
Whose deeds thy perfect knowledge signify,
That win thy dread omnipotence acclaim.
For, scal’d in centuries, a meteyard marks
The seven heavens’ arcs,
Likewise their intervening atmospheres,
Measures to which each year, awaken’d, harks,
To run its fixéd span; the seven tiers
Of earth He link’d with heaven, moving round,
And made thereon abound
Goodness, made greater yet by love – to keep
From lack earth’s structure, his beneficence
Endow’ her order’d scheme with permanence.
His ministering hosts, with nimble leap,
Ubiquitous assert that He is One,
Living, like to Him none:
His Name, exalted high beyond access
In isolation so resounds his
Velum, the Drape of heav’n, is specified
The first celestial tract: here did He post
Seven pair’d regiments, the word to bide
Of seven Guardians, each o’er his host
Rais’d on a double throne – they all unite
To praise Him in the height,
To his dread Name Trishagion they sing:
All He commanded them they make their rite,
Like some inheritance – from fire they spring,
Then lapse to singeing fire, such time allow’d
As, in his Name, his Word they may fulfill,
Themselves fulfill’d as they fulfill his will.
Arise, O Lord, O God pursue the proud
Right to the place of reckoning: thy foes
Who, without cause, oppose,
Scatter them: thus shall angel choirs confess,
All mass’d, thy dread, and so resound thy
How awesome are his works who fashion’d all
Most wondrously! Raqia next He deck’d
(Which second heaven Firmament we call):
Twelve rising stages did He there erect.
On each flight, angels tremble in their zeal
His lauds broadcast to peal.
There are the storehouses of hail to see
Where snow, and hoarfrost and the like congeal.
Though full of awe those angels stand, yet He,
Their source of awe, Commanders for them made
To have his Word obey’d.
God’s secret those who fear Him may descry,
But who hath strength his cosmic force to tell?
Nay, strive in song those mystic pow’s to spell
That his hosts wield, the Lord to magnify,
Tracing his glory and his awe, that shine
Throughout precepts divine.
His Name He gave creation, to impress
Thereon his glory, and
Shehaqim, subtle Aether•
– store of storm,
Of winds, dense darkness, lightning, thunder, pow’r,
That, hinting at God’s thoughts, may man inform
Lies next, wherein three facing thrones do tow’r,
And figures three beside them glorify
His holy Name on high:
Assign’d their mission, Dread and Terror raise
Their voice in song, all eager to comply.
Zebul, the dazzling Palace rigg’d with stays
pair’d vaults are here the site
Where lies transcendent might,
With treasuries of dew: on either hand
In rivers fire entwin’d with waterflows
Such peace celestial doth God impose:
Who, with such angels’ regimental band
Comparison could stand?
What man, like them, his holy Name could bless
In psalmody, and so resound his
Makhon, fantastic hoard of jewels display’d
In an Establishment rais’d higher yet
By angels in majestic pomp array’d,
Distinguish’d as a troop, on whom is set
Praise of Him who such splendours did create:
Twelve Princes, chief in state
Three to each quarter of the world –
– are lords
Of the twelve months, their archons designate.
Sixth is the Residence, Ma’on, where hoards
Bursting with honey stand, sign of that sweet
Reward the just shall meet.
Intense the light as angels flap their wings
In flocks that thousand myriads multiply,
With songs they constantly diversify
In rev’rent praise of Him who form’d all things,
Wonders that mark his sovereign process
As Lord of Hosts, and so resound his
The might of ‘Araboth illumes its Skies
With light increas’d in incandescent flare
By seven times, and there the Throne doth rise
On mystic beings carried through the air,
Each with four visages
– it seems their freight,
But rather bears their weight:
Beneath, the treasuries of life are stow’d
And storehouses for souls predestinate,
With angel courses, einging in a mode
Of thrice-avouchéd sanctity, each eye
Flashing forth streaks to vie
With lightning. God, demanding faith, allied
To justice, sits in fearsome state, the light
*A robe that swathes his likeness from men’s sight
Who owns no likeness to his sight denied:
His with the scales of justice to enquire
In pages writ in fire,
Whilst, plung’d in purest streams, the angels dress
In whitest fire, and so resound his
God’s people, Jacob, for his heritage
And his appointed portion did He take,
With whom, enduring throughout ev’ry age,
His covenant of chiefest laws did make,
Wherein his own especial folk delight
Should find, glimpsing the sight
That-He of his laws’ mystery display’d,
Drawn by that lovingkindness He did plight.
So He the seventh moon’s first day hath made
The season when creation’s crown is brought
To judgment, in his court:
Even as He the one He first did frame
In his own image, though he sinn’d, did yet
Acquit to live, so He this day hath set
To keep for aye his covenant the same
In unforgetting fame,
Firm for his seed, who, judg’d, must nonetheless
Fear Him and quake, and so resound his
Therefore do ye, who seek his mercy, sound
The ram’s horn on this new moon’s festive morn,
To hail Him whom age after age has found
Faithful to keep the promise He hath sworn:
And when, all tremulous, ye stand confus’d
To hear yourselves accus’d,
Resolve in true repentance to forswear
The evil practices that ye have us’d.
For know there is no deed that man shall dare
But he must answer for it, as he may
Before that tribunal, where God alone
Seated upon his pre-existent throne
Holds annual assize, on New Year’s Day,
That comes apace, to bid you haste, intent
To meet it penitent:
And mindful that in Him will ne’er digress
Nor faith nor justice, so resound his
Craige Aitchison known for his flat, colourful and economic style of painting designed this window just before his death in 2009. In fact he only designed three church windows one of which I helped with at St Mary the Boltons in London and his last was one which I made and installed in St Martins in the Bullring, Birmingham, 2015.
This spotlight is on the process of making the window, firstly a single panel was a fusion of a clear base glass with broken yellow glass and frit to define the background. Then more frit was applied to add flecks of colour to the background which the client wanted to come through the black paint. It was fired in a glass kiln several times until ready to install into a bespoke metal frame fitted to the inside of the existing float glass glazing attached to the stone tracery. The pre-existing external glazing was already divided by a lead line so the fused glass I made was divided at the same height. The window overlooks the Bullring which is an open public space and can be viewed at night as well as from inside the church when open.