Whenever I do South East Open Studios I only participate in two of the three weekends. One reason for that is so that we can go out and visit other people’s studios – otherwise we miss this great opportunity to see the amazing art happening in our area. Some years ago we took that opportunity to visit Tony Wynne of Venus Glass Art in Seddlescombe – a village just off the A21, north of Hastings. We had seen his work in the catalogue and had the idea that we might commission him to make a window panel for us. We very much liked Tony’s style, but when we got chatting he suggested that as I was a ‘creative type’ perhaps I’d like to join the classes he was starting that September and make it myself. On the condition that Tony would accept the commission to finish it if I turned out to be rubbish at it I signed up.
Thus started what turned out to be four (or is it five?) years of classes. The group of us on Tuesday afternoons soon got to know each other and the class became an opportunity for sharing of news, advice, home made cake and encouragement in making some lovely work. We were all just starting out so Tony patiently walked us through the initially terrifying process of cutting glass in various shapes from straight lines and building up to intricate curves. We learned how to cover the edges of the glass in copper foil and solder it together. After practice on clear glass we each designed and made an initial project with the skills we had learned. I put a sycamore leaf I found in the street on the copier to make a template, divided it into sections and chose autumnal colours. I made the stalk from some flattened copper heating pipe. It hangs in our living room catching the light from the French windows.
Filled with confidence, and perhaps attempting to run before I was walking properly I started on the window project. Tony had a design of dragonflies on bulrushes which I liked. He generously allowed me to use the pattern for this, and I extended it upwards, adding more dragonflies, to make the size I needed. Much hand-holding from Tony and encouragement from other class members when the morale was flagging and by the end of the summer term it was done. In the process of the final wash-down a piece of the glass cracked and Tony showed me how to break that out, repair the area and insert a new piece.
By this time Tony had extended his workshop and installed a kiln in order to offer the option of warm glass projects. Warm glass pieces are all initially fused together as a flat piece. If 3-D shaping is required a second firing is required to slump the glass into a mould. It turns out that the moulds are made from a fine white clay which appeared to be rather like the clay I use when fired to the biscuit (still porous) stage. This made for a happy partnership as I was able to produce moulds, either thrown on the wheel or from objects brought in by other students. My first fused piece was a bowl made from a combination of sheet glass, frit and glass powders.
The idea of combining glass and pottery was taken a stage further in the design of these lamps. I made a pair of them for our bedside tables. We went to Creative Glass in Rochester armed with samples of our bed linen, curtains, carpet and wall paint. We probably drove the bloke in the warehouse mad, pulling out just about every piece of glass until we found the combination which felt ‘just right.’ I made a cone shape in ceramic to support the pieces whilst it was assembled. Disaster struck when I slipped one wintry evening on the way out and smashed the form. Araldite Rapid to the rescue! Another problem loomed when I found that the shades would be too flexible because of the way they were joined but Tony suggested a fine wire ring top and bottom would stiffen it up and sure enough that worked. Meanwhile I made the bases on the potter’s wheel as lidded jars without bases, and joined the lids on permanently before firing. As it happened two of the glasses we had chosen for the shades were suitable for a warm glass project, so I also made a bowl from the remnants.
When we renovated part of our house and turned what had been two outside toilets into an internal space we forgot to specify that the window should be obscured glass. We had rectified this with a roller blind, but how much nicer would an obscured stained glass window be? I made a small sampler panel based on a motif of passionflowers to show D and gain approval. (He is the passionflower expert after all.) I returned to class the next September with a full size cartoon of the design. This window would be too large to support itself in either lead or copper, so reinforcing bars would have to be included. I wanted these to be as unobtrusive as possible, so I included some lines through the pattern which were unbroken, and could be used to disguise the required support.
This project turned out to be something of a saga. For a start it needed a lot of glass. Some of the glass would be painted using traditional glass paints, which are fired into the glass. I divided the work into six panels and duly cut out the templates for the glass, and cut the glass, keeping the pieces of each section in separate bags. With all of the glass cut I painted on the details of the stamens, corona, leaf veins and tendrils. When the glass was fired half of the white pieces went completely opaque, whilst the other half remained semi-opaque. We checked the codes on the glass and they were identical. Nevertheless nearly 50% of the work was ruined. I went up to Creative Glass to personally get more and I started again. A test verified that this new glass would fire correctly, but for some reason the paint wouldn’t adhere to it so well. Perhaps it was attempting to paint in the summer heat, but it took several goes to get all the pieces replaced. By this time I was wishing I’d never started. I had to take a break from it and made some other smaller pieces of warm glass to relieve the stress.
Each of the six panels were then assembled separately and taken home carefully wrapped in bubble plastic. Only when they were all done did we start to deal with the reality of how big the final piece would be. Other people were doing some quite large pieces too and storage at Tony’s workshop was going to be a problem. I bought a piece of heavy duty chipboard to work on and Tony and Michelle cleared out the space under his large bench. The piece would have to live there between classes. I returned with all of the panels and soldered them together. The reinforcing bars were then added and a border of grape coloured glass to match the passionflower petals added. A frame of zinc was put on the outside and soldered to the support bars. Finally, after nearly two years we lifted the completed piece up and saw the light come through it as a whole for the first time. I fell in love with the idea of stained glass again!
Unfortunately I was starting to realise that there were a lot of claims on my time, and that I didn’t really have another project I wanted to make. Reluctantly I decided that I would stop attending classes at the end of the term. To finish off I made a mould from clay for an oval dish. I made two dishes using a brown glass with flakes of green aventurine glass arranged across it. The aventurine makes the glass sparkle in a way that is beautifully offset by the dark background.
I have met some wonderful people, made some pieces I’m proud of and learned a new skill in the process. A big thank you to Tony and Michelle for running the classes, and for the excellent tuition, coaching and advice. Also to those I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with in the classes. We had a lot of fun, some great laughs and polished off a serious quantity of tea and cake.