Stained glass pioneer awarded medal for conservation
Stained glass conservation pioneer Professor Sarah Brown has received the 2023 Plowden Medal for Conservation, recognising her significant contribution to the stained glass conservation sector.
Prof Brown, who is course director of the MA in Stained Glass Conservation and Heritage Management at the University of York and the Director of the York Glaziers Trust (YGT), is a household name in the stained glass industry.
Prof Brown said she was ‘knocked for six’ when she found out she had been awarded the prestigious Medal, which honours the life and achievements of the late Hon. Anna Plowden CBE, who was a leading conservator.
“Anna Plowden made such a big difference to the conservation community that to be awarded this medal in her memory is very moving,” she commented. “It was very humbling to be told I had been chosen. I am not often speechless but momentarily I was!
“It’s a tremendous affirmation, especially because I never feel like I am working, and I love what I do so much. I am grateful to my colleagues and peers for making a nomination on my behalf.”
Inspired by her father, who had begun his career as a joinery apprentice and loved using tools throughout his life, Prof Brown has been a tireless champion of the stained glass community since the 1980s, playing a key role in introducing academic training for stained glass conservators.
“While doing my Masters at the University of York, I became aware of threats to stained glass, but I was equally aware of the fact there were very few people who could care for this heritage,” she explained. “So, we worked hard to establish a national accreditation scheme for stained glass conservators, which subsequently became part of ICON’s national scheme. After a period of development, the University of York launched the Masters Course in Stained Glass Conservation and Heritage Management in 2008.”
Having previously served as a trustee, Prof Brown also became director of the YGT in 2008, overseeing the conservation of the Great East Window of York Minster of 1405-8, which is the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in Britain. In bringing together a multi-disciplinary and international advisory team, this project created a new benchmark in stained glass conservation practice in the UK.
While her achievements and impact on the discipline are immense, Prof Brown is most proud of how she has helped to pave a pathway for a new generation of conservators.
“I think I can safely say that we have created opportunities for young practitioners that simply were not there 15 to 20 years ago,” she said. “Many of my former students are now accredited conservators in their own right, leading studios and major projects in UK and further afield. Stained glass conservation is not a big business; it’s a very niche area and was at risk of disappearing, but I am proud to have played a role in averting that.”
Established in 1999 to commemorate the life and work of the late Hon. Anna Plowden CBE (1938 – 1997), the Plowden Medal was endowed by the Royal Warrant Holders Association, of which she was vice president. It is awarded annually to an individual who has made a significant contribution to the advancement of the conservation profession. The award covers all aspects of conservation, be they practical, theoretical or managerial, and is open to those working in private practice or institutions.
Main image: The Plowden Medal