Historic stained glass window making joins Red List of Endangered Crafts
Stained glass window making (historic windows) has been added to the Heritage Crafts Association’s (HCA) Red List of Endangered Crafts 2023.
The British Society of Master Glass Painters (BSMGP) states that it has known for some time that the making of work on all scales was threatened, and particularly the design and making painted and leaded stained glass windows on a large scale for architectural settings.
Steve Clare, chairman of the BSMGP said, “Obviously there are mixed emotions on receiving the verdict from Heritage Crafts that this important strain of our craft is endangered. On one hand it confirms our view that, despite our efforts to encourage the next generation of artists and craftspeople to join, that we are now at dangerously low levels of professionals to protect the UK’s heritage of stained glass making. On the positive side, we hope that this announcement will allow the Society to shine a light on the problem and to galvanise others to help us create a renaissance in the use of stained glass and to therefore provide a future living for apprentices coming into the craft.”
The BSMGP provided HCA with data from various sources for the expert panel to consider (including surveys with the membership). The review focused on:
- loss of skills
- aging practitioners
- the lack of opportunities for skilled makers to pass on their skills
- the decline in educational opportunities and courses
- the lack of training and employment opportunities with larger
- the scarcity and rising costs of raw materials
- relevance in today’s world
Talking about the plans for creating a renaissance in the use of stained glass, Deborah Parkes a BSMGP council member and Head of Projects at the Society said, “In 2023, stained glass is seen by so many as an art of a bygone era … for churches or doors in Victorian properties. My job therefore is to inspire homeowners as well as professional specifiers (architects and interior designers) to look again at its potential. The vision is for a virtuous circle – a renaissance in stained glass will create more demand for the skills of artists and associated craftspeople, allowing the dwindling number of accredited professionals to take on apprentices and encourage more young people to enrol on courses.”
Why has stained glass making been given endangered craft status?
The HCA notes that skills in designing and cartooning for stained glass in historic buildings take time to develop and traditionally these skills are passed from master to apprentice or teacher to student over years. There are specific challenges in designing for traditional windows, such as: how light interacts with the architecture; choice of lead sizes (for structure and aesthetics); the quantity and quality of paint used to filter the light; designing windows that use the shapes of the glass pieces and position of tie-bars to maximise the physical strength of a window constructed with lead. Removing and installing new and historic leaded panels in large stone windows requires specialist skills in stone and metalwork. There are only a handful of studios left in the UK capable of this highly specialised work.
One issue affecting the survival of such stained glass projects – and other crafts on the endangered list – is the contraction in supplies and suppliers. While the HCA states that mouth-blown flat glass has become ‘extinct in the UK’ after English Antique Glass stopped production in 2022 when it moved from Birmingham to Oxfordshire, as readers of the CGS Glass Network May 2023 print edition will know, English Antique Glass remains in business and has large stocks of this glass available.
Hettie Bowles, Operations Director at English Antique Glass, confirmed that the company is still providing other glass products to consumers and glass materials to the trade, including Norman Slabs, Bullions and other blown glass work. She stated that the company retains the skills and knowledge to restart flat glass production in the future.
In addition, our Glass Network cover story features John Reyntiens MBE, whose architectural stained glass business continues to find success with commissions like the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Window of 2022 and two windows installed in Speaker’s House at the Palace of Westminster in time for the coronation of King Charles III in May 2023.
CGS members can read the digital edition of Glass Network magazine via the Members’ Area in the Resources section of the website.
Read more about the HCA’s Red List of Endangered Crafts 2023 here.
Find out more about the BSMGP via the website.
Image: Working on a stained glass window. Photo: BSMGP.