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So you want to…create stained glass?

Stained glass windows are a creative way of telling stories and reminding us of our faith.    The colours, forms and symbols draw people in to ponder and they become beautiful works of art that adorn places of worship.   Although stained glass is often associated with older churches and cathedrals,  there are some stunning modern expressions of this traditional art.  St. Mary’s, Green Street Green, show us what can be achieved when a church community takes on a project to create their own.  Marina Price, the leader of the St. Mary’s Art group, shares what happened.

In late 2008 St Mary’s Church decided to commission a stained glass window to celebrate its 75th Anniversary in 2012.  After the necessary consultation with the Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC), I was part of a small group from St Mary’s who visited Leonie Seliger, Head of the stained glass studio at Canterbury Cathedral. The idea at this point was that St Mary’s design its own window and commission a stained glass artist to make it.

After this meeting, armed with a greater understanding of how stained glass windows are made and the cost of commissioning the work, we were inspired to think differently. We had the idea of investing in training members of the St Mary’s congregation in the art of making stained glass, with the aim of making our own stained glass window. We identified a potential workshop, an unused space under the church, and sought willing volunteers for training. This led to myself, Jenny Mason, Alison Hall, Ruth Hargreaves and Revd. Karl Carpani forming ‘The Window Team’.

During 2009, the congregation were asked to submit ideas for the window design. After much prayer and consultation, the vision described in Ezekiel 47 became the inspiration for the final design. The Window Team began working on a design for the window and undertook training with Stoney Parsons, an Architectural stained glass artist based in Tunbridge Wells.

The DAC confirmed its approval of the window design, however before it could make its final recommendation to the Chancellor of the Diocese of Rochester for the necessary faculty to be granted, it required St Mary’s to provide detailed information on the process of the manufacture of the window, its installation, and questions of responsibility and health and safety.

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The team answered all questions and concerns and proceeded to cost the project, scale up the window design to full size and equip the workshop. The congregation were invited to design the detail of fish and other ‘life’ which would be found in and around the life-giving river depicted in Ezekiel 47. All of the creature designs submitted by members of the congregation were later incorporated into the window.

Research led us to use Isothermal glazing on the outside of the stained glass window. This is an environmental glazing system and considered the best form of protection for the window from vandalism and weather.

On 23 March 2011 the Faculty for the stained glass window was granted. St Mary’s organised a Gift Day to raise the £20,000 it was estimated the project would cost and the entire amount was raised in that one fundraising event!  Had the window been made for us the cost would have been more than three times that figure.

Before the work on the window could begin, the Team were required to produce a small sample stained glass panel, to be inspected by Leonie Seliger, to show its ability to produce a stained glass window of the required standard.

Work on the window finally commenced in September 2011. The St Mary’s stained glass window is a circular window with a 3m diameter. Working within the existing stonework structure it was decided to break the design down into 16 main panels. It was a massive challenge to break up the designed image into sections and accommodate the existing stone tracery, yet ensure the flow of the image and the lead lines from one panel to the next!

Another challenge for the Team, all volunteers on the project, was to develop a system of working that would enable each individual to work on the window when they had time, fitting in with their other commitments.

Designing the window was one thing; turning the design into an image in glass was quite another! Many trips were made to stained glass suppliers, of which there are few and none of them local to St Mary’s. The stained glass industry in the UK seems to be shrouded in secrecy. Getting information about different techniques and processes was very challenging and lots of research and experimentation had to be undertaken. The art of painting on glass and firing it in a kiln was also self taught.

Working underground with no natural light source, the Team relied on a homemade ‘lightbox’ and many trips up and down the stairs to view our work outside!

In order to meet the deadline by which the Window needed to be finished, two new members joined The Window Team in 2012, Peter Gilbert and Jean Delaney. Both members of the St Mary’s Congregation. They were taught all aspects of making a stained glass window by existing members of the team and ensured the project was finished on schedule.

The initials of each team member are discretely painted into one of the small triangular glass pieces that surround the main window.

The enormous amount of experience we gained in making the St Mary’s window is invaluable.  It was such a steep learning curve for us all and the knowledge we gained through it all will inform our approach to any future projects we undertake.  With the benefit of hindsight we would have done a number of things differently.

We are proud to be able to say this project is unique in that there is no contemporary example in this country of a stained glass window being made entirely by its own members rather than an experienced professional.

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Members of the St Mary’s Window Team would be very happy to pass on all that we learnt through this experience to any other church contemplating a stained glass project. If you would like to find out more then please contact Revd. Karl Carpani at  vicar@smasch.org

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