1. History of the building
2. Architectural space selected for the windows
3. Relationship between the window and those who use the building
4. Light and the aspect of the window within the building
5. Purpose of the window within the building
6. Structural limitations
7. Relationship between the window and other works of art
Relating specific briefs, she then presented examples of work that demonstrated each area of advice. She explained, for example, how considering the history of the building had been important in tackling 14 windows, each 6’ high, in the Lady Chapel, Ely Cathedral. The use of lilies and circular patterns had helped to recreate a 14th century look. In St Peter & Mary’s Church, Stowmarket, she looked at the architectural space that had been selected for the windows. The sequence of four seasons, depicting Spring/Water; Summer/Fire; Autumn/Earth and Winter/Air was positioned to balance and complement the window dimensions and architectural design. In creating a commemorative window for the Andrews family in St James’ Chapel, Highgate Cemetery, Helen had to consider the relationship between the chapel and three generations of the family, who had lived in Highgate village for over a hundred years. A commission for the RAF Club in 2008 required thinking about the aspect of the window within the building and aiming to get the window to come alive as much as possible without much natural lighting. The windows were quite dark, so Helen relied on gilding and metallic work as well as diagonal design to lift the eye, to focus on key content such as the RAF motto and emblem. Other equally important factors involved looking at the purpose of a window within a building (such as the one at Holme Cultram Abbey in 2012, which commemorates the lives of a brother and sister killed in a car crash); as well as a window’s structural attributes and limitations (such as at St Ethelburga’s Centre, London, almost destroyed by an IRA bomb and then reconstructed: Helen’s figure of St Ethelburga is seen moving through the window, uniting shards of flying glass in a gesture of harmony and hope). Finally, Helen advised that the relationship of the window with other works of art already in the building also has to be a prime consideration. When creating sculptural pieces for Beverley Minster’s Retro-Quire and working on The Pilgrim Window, in 2004, Helen had to be conscious of the minster’s long architectural and artistic tradition, in the Early English, Decorated and Perpendicular Style. An intricately carved screen was designed by a famed Victorian architect, Sir George Gilbert Scott, and carved by James Elwell. Helen’s response was to use a more abstract approach, different from her usual figurative style yet sympathetic to the existing artwork.
Despite her usual ecclesiastical subject matter, Helen describes herself as spiritual, but not a specifically religious person. She says her subjects help her raise her aspirations as well as consciousness. Much of Helen’s work is done in collaboration with other practitioners, be they stained glass artists, architects or technicians. Her talk imparted plenty of practical advice, but she finished by inviting us follow three more rules that she tries to live by: 1) enjoy what you do; 2) don’t be subject to fashion; and 3) always follow your heart. Wise words from a master of her art!
Kate gave us a brief history of their own ‘apprenticeships’ in glass. Stephen started by training at Stourbridge College of Art, then at Wolverhampton University. He worked for a while in the Ebeltoft Glass Museum, Denmark and with Philip Baldwin and Monica Guggisberg in Switzerland. His glass apprenticeship led to studying and working with masters such as Dale Chihuly, Lino Tagliapietra, Josiah McElheney, Jan Erik Ritzman and Richard Marquis, making Stephen the craftsman he is today. Kate trained in painting, then moved to glass design and decoration at the International Glass Centre, Brierley Hill, Dudley. She later travelled to India with the British Council on a research project. She brings a sense of subtle pattern and design to their work, especially in graphic decoration.
Since 1994, Kate and Stephen have worked in partnership, in both life and business. Their ‘signature’ piece is a beautiful vessel form, based on the horse chestnut seed-pod, which they call “Aesculus”. Their style is all about proportion, form, design, cutting and movement. From their small studio, they produce world-acclaimed, award-winning work, for galleries, collections and commissions, but also run small workshops and hold two studio exhibitions a year in the main gallery. Recently, they have made pieces for an exhibition for the North York Moors National Park, and the beauty, romance and remoteness of their rural location was key in informing their work. Concluding her talk, Kate had plenty of advice for us too. In some ways, she said, you need more tenacity than you do talent: her message was for us to keep ploughing our furrow and keep our integrity intact. “If a gallery says no, always try again; never accept rejection”, she urged. I promise to always follow that advice!