It was great to see the windows in place, free of scaffolding and looking part of the fabric of the place. We are pretty chuffed, to be honest! It has been a fabulous collaboration on every level, and, most importantly, we are still speaking!
We installed the windows yesterday. It is amazing to work with a 700 year old building, and I can safely say we have improved it! We are very pleased with ourselves and with our excellent team of installers, scaffolders and lead workers.
This morning we are going back to see the work in the space without the scaffolding. Biggest compliment so far…”it looks like it has always been there”.
The windows are pin the capable hands of Stacey Poultney and Owen Leutchford, under the watchful eye of Alun Adams, at the Architectural Glass Centre in Swansea Metropolitan University. They are all leaded now and are being cemented as I write so that they will be ready for us to install next Friday!
Rachel and I had a fantastic time on the Study Day at the Royal Manuscripts Exhibition at the British Library. What a place! I cant believe I have never been here before, it is brimming with richness and is a monument to communication – I could happily live here!
The Study Day was organized by the Calligraphy and Lettering Arts Society and was attended by 200 people, many of them amateur calligraphers and members of the society.
There was a fantastic talk by Alixe Bovey, an art historian from the University of Canterbury, who was one of the researchers for the exhibition. She talked passionately about her research of the Smithfield Decretals, a medieval law manuscript and she showed some of the illustrations and graphically explained the stories they represent.
This was followed by a talk about the practicalities of illumination, how to make a quill, the derivation of pigments and a demonstration of guilding by Patricia Lovett. It was great to see the hands on business of how these manuscripts were actually made. I also learned some word derivation, for instance that that the word “miniature” comes from “minim”, which was a pigment used to outline the designs, originally it did not mean small, indeed some of these manuscripts are very large, and that “pen knife” is simply a knife that was designed to cut quills to make pens! It is great to find these tracks to the past in our everyday lives.
Kathleen Doyle, one of the curators of the exhibition talked about the practicalities of mounting the exhibition, how they went about configuring the enormity of the space to showcase these manuscripts in the best possible way, and how they designed the exhibition and organized the exhibits in the space. It gave us an insight into the behind-the-scenes work that goes on to mount an exhibition like this.
Then we had an exclusive viewing of the manuscripts. For me the sheer amount of work in the exhibition was overwhelming – so many fantastic manuscripts and so much detail in each one. I was very glad we came here after completing the work on the Conwy windows or I fear it would have been even harder to know when to stop!
The colours are fantastically preserved because, unlike paintings on wood or canvas, they have been protected in books and rarely exposed to light or pollution. It was stunning, and the amount of human endeavour in each piece was mind-blowing. If I thought we were doing detailed work, here was a different kind of effort all together.
Of course these manuscripts are very privileged documents, they were created in an age where most people were illiterate, they were made by artisans for the personal and political use of monarchs, and have been kept in royal libraries ever since. Somehow they have been virtually ignored by art historians, maybe because they were housed in libraries rather than galleries or churches. I can’t believe that I had not even really looked at a manuscript until I started this project six months ago! It is certainly something precious that I take from the experience of the Conwy project, and the moments I spent looking directly at the Alphonso Psalter yesterday will stay with me forever.
As soon as the exclusive viewing hour was up, the exhibition became packed with visitors and has been incredibly popular. When we live in a culture where we are constantly bombarded with imagery that we do not need to actually look at to read, there appears to be a noticeable appetite for real looking, This is something I have witnesses in all the shows I have seen this week, the Golden Spider Cape, the Grayson Perry and the Royal Manuscripts.
Having spent the past six months pouring over manuscript images in books and on the internet, seeing the real thing was an emotional experience. There is something so intimate and human about a manuscript, the fact that really only one person can look at it at a time, it is an intense experience, and there is a definite feeling that you are looking across the centuries and having a moment of communication with a medieval artist. This is the same feeling I had when I discovered the Llangwstennin glass in Llandudno Museum, the feeling which inspired the Conwy windows, for me it is living history, communication and connectedness, and that is very satisfying on some deep level.
We decided to invite our family to make a small piece each by way of a thank you for their part in supporting us through this project, my daughter, Ruby, painted a fragment for the window, a design of bees taken from a medieval manuscript.
We have had a busy week in the studio getting the glass finished, besides having the visits from Maenclochog Primary School, and filming an item for Welsh language TV programme, Wedi Saith (the item is 14 minutes into the clip here). About 30 local people came to our open studio hour on Sunday afternoon, it was an opportunity for people in the village to see what has been going on in here for the last six months. Then the kilns were in full use over weekend in a bid to meet our deadline and have the glass ready to be leaded by Tuesday.
Rachel put the final piece of glass was put into the design late on Monday, it was an emotional moment, to have actually finished the painting part of the work. We are exhausted but very pleased with the way it has gone and looking forward to installing it in 3 weeks time!
The panels were dismantled and taken to Swansea yesterday to the Architectural Glass Centre, where they are in the capable hands of Alun, Owen and Stacey who are going to do the leading in the next three weeks.
I have left the strangely empty studio and headed off to London to see the Grayson Perry, Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman show at the British Museum. On Friday Rachel and I have booked to attend a study day on Royal Manuscripts at the British Museum – Wow, do these girls really know how to celebrate!!!
Whilst making these windows I have been coming to realise the power of making to move people. I have always made things, but somehow the making aspect of this project is more accessible to people than it is in my painting, where the “art” appears to get in the way. People have often asked me how long it takes me to do a painting (that old question that Whistler answered so perfectly – a lifetime!), but here, in the glass, the time, effort and skill we are spending on it is plain to see. That, combined with the beauty of the glass and the complex stories and referencing within the piece, are proving to be very popular.
This week I have made an item for the Welsh language TV programme, Wedi Saith (which will go out on S4C at 7pm on monday 13th February) and hosted visits from Maenclochog primary school and various friends and neighbours. In response to this interest, Rachel and I have decided to open the studio for an hour on Sunday (4-5pm) in an attempt to give people a chance to see the work before it goes to Swansea on Tuesday to be leaded.
Meanwhile we have plenty to do getting the final firings in the kiln, doing the calligraphy and balancing out the colour and tone of the whole piece.
It is all 12 hour days in the studio right now to get all the glass painted and fired so that the panels can go to Swansea for leading next week. But deadlines can be a positive thing, and I am sure I would spend another 6 months tweaking details and that wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing.
The amount of detail in these panels astounds even me! How any crafts person is supposed to find time for social media is beyond me – medieval craftsmen had it easy, or, you might say that York Minster would never have been completed if they had had Facebook!! Actually, I am finding social media really useful at the moment for research and for networking with other artists and historians and enthusiasts of various types.
On Sunday 12th February we will host a viewing of the panels in my studio before they go down to Swansea to be leaded next week. People are welcome to come between 4pm and 5pm (sorry, but we have to restrict the time to one hour as we have so much to get done by Tuesday).
This week we had a visit from Kathryn Campbell, an artist based in Carmarthenshire who trained as a calligrapher. We have been searching for a calligrapher who can work with us to incorporate the beautiful couplets written by Damian Walford Davies in the windows. Kathryn is an artist I have known about for a while but had no idea she was a talented calligrapher, and, what’s more she is excited about our work and able to fit in to our tight deadline! Incorporating the poems in the windows needs careful thought and we have gone through a number of options and approaches, finally we decided we need to commission a calligrapher in order to do the work, and the poems, justice.
The painting is coming along well, we need to get all the glass painted and delivered to Swansea in a fortnight’s time for leading in order to comply with our installation date of March 8th.
I took a day in the week to work with Sarah Harman on our Rosebush Quarry project “Canu’r Oer Wynt”. This is a project I began in the autumn supported by a research and development grant from Arts Council Wales. I have been researching in archives, interviewing local people and experimenting with some glass ideas in my kiln, but since November the project has taken a back seat because of the Conwy commission. Sarah is a singer/songwriter and talented choir leader who is planning to write a suit of songs based on the history of the quarry, together we interviewed local people who remember the railway in Rosebush when it was operational, Peter Claughton, an industrial archaeologist and Geraint Harries, a friend and local man who works for The Pembrokeshire National Park Authority. We recorded the interviews to form the basis of our research for our project and discussed our ideas and plans. It was good to get back into this project.
Painting is progressing well on the windows. We are working flat-out to meet our deadline for installation on March 8th. I am really enjoying experimenting with etching and sandblasting as well as painting pieces, the fragmentary nature of the piece gives lots of scope to be spontaneous within a structure.
All these pieces will be cut up and included as fragments. Meanwhile, the painting is fabulous to do, so different to my usual approach to using colour, thinking all the time about the light! I am learning a lot about traditional techniques from Rachel. Hardly any time to blog!!
The gallery has been converted back into a stained glass workshop and the wonderful Carwyn has constructed fantastic easel light boxes to enable us to work on all three panels together. We have been ailing with seasonal bugs but have been enjoying painting up some glass and preparing pieces for sand blasting. It is great to have the templates and cut lines up in the studio and to actually begin to assess light and colour.
I went to a fantastic gig at Cuffern Manor this week, Julie Murphy and Ceri Owen Jones performed new pieces from their upcoming album, ably supported by Fiddlebox. Julie’s songs are tender and poignant and their collaboration embodies the best of traditional and contemporary work, poetry and music, and, amazingly, Ceri played a piece from the medieval ap Huw manuscript – one of the manuscript sources I have been consulting for my windows project…synchronicity at its best!…dreaming of a harp in the chapel..!