Article about making “The Sower”

The Sower – A memorial window for Philip Weeks. Installed December 2012.

The original concept for the window was suggested by the family, recalling a conversation with Philip about the window, and how The Sower would be a suitable subject for this small farming community. As a farmer and church warden at St. Mary’s for 40 years, it was the ideal subject for a memorial for Philip Weeks.

We originally looked at traditional representations of “The Sower” from biblical illustrations. However, it was decided that the work needed to have a more contemporary feel, despite the traditional setting, and theme. It is important that stained glass represents the time in which it is made. Perhaps all the more so if it is to survive as a craft in the 21st century.

As an artist, I felt that as the window was both high and viewed at an angle, it would be important that the imagery was distilled to the most important elements of the parable. The seed, the head and hand of the sower, and the ears of corn, as well as the tares, or weeds. The profile of the head was based on a photograph of Philip himself as a young man. Colours have always been very important in my work, and while in this piece I have not used colours symbolically, I have tried to use colours which are positive and uplifting. I wanted to create the feeling of a sunset, and a harvest moon.

Once the design was agreed upon, I set to work. The first stage is to draw the cartoon. This is a full scale drawing of the window. During this stage I can resolve any issues with lead-lines that may not be apparent when drawing the scale design. The colours represent the colours to be used, but it is not possible using chalk to represent the translucency of glass, so this is a working drawing, not a representation of the final piece.

Once I am happy with this, I can start to draw up the cut line. This is an outline drawn on tracing paper which will tell me the shapes I need to cut for the stained glass window. The lines are drawn in pencil and then inked over with a marker pen. The thickness of the black line represents the lead heart between each piece of glass.

The next stage is to start cutting the glass. I pick coloured sheets, and lean them against the windows to see the true colours against daylight. A light box will not do for this, as the yellow light distorts the colour of the glass.

Once all the glass is cut out, it is ready to be decorated. This can be done in a variety of ways. The traditional methods of decorating stained glass are painting, silver staining, enamelling, acid etching and engraving. In my work, I focus on engraving, and also incorporate silver staining and painting. In this piece I used tracing black paint for the outline of the plants and the details on the hand. I then used silver stain to add highlights in yellow, and then engraving to add textures and lines. The seeds were all engraved. Engraving is a technique which involves taking away the top surface of the glass, to reveal the white body of the glass below the coloured layer.

Once the decoration is complete, the pieces of glass are ready to be put together with lead. This is a process which involves fitting lead “cames” around the edges of each piece of glass, and building up the picture like a jigsaw. At this stage, if the cutting is not accurate, problems can occur, and pieces may need trimming. If you look at the lead end on, its cross section is an “H”, the central bar forming the “heart” of the lead. For thicker pieces of glass, high or wide heart lead is used. The blue “roundel” or “bullseye” in the top section of the right light is a thick piece of mouth blown glass from Hartley Woods Glass, the last traditional glass factory in England.

The panels of glass are leaded in sections, and fitted one on top of the other, with copper ties to secure them to the saddle bars which go across the opening and fit into the stone. The stone tracery is chiselled out with a deep groove to receive the glass. This is slotted into place in the stone. Lime mortar is then used to fill the gaps. It is always a worrying moment when the glass goes in. There is the risk of it breaking on the journey, on the way up the scaffolding, and then of course the worry that it won’t fit. Fortunately in this case the glass fitted snugly, and there were no breakages!

The wonderful thing about stained glass is how it changes with the light during the day, the seasons and of course the weather. It is never the same. The other thing is that it changed the quality of light in a space. It is also very different from the inside and the outside.

The Sower window at Laverton was made using traditional techniques that have not changed for hundreds of years. Although techniques remain unchanged, the challenge for glass makers in the 21st century is to create work which speaks of today, not the past. This can be achieved with colour and design.

All content © Copyright 2010 by Claudia Phipps Architectural Glass.