Monday, 21 March 2011

Reflections on the glass

I enjoy the occasional spot of DIY - it revives memories from all those years ago of messing around in my father's workshop in Somerset - increasingly helping me to recreate that second more perfect childhood. Something to which I feel we should all be entitled in exchange for the passage of time.

We used to live in a Victorian property - it even had a datestone telling us that the house was built in 1886. It gave me childish thrills even then to make unexpected discoveries. Like original Victorian Christmas cards under the floorboards in the attic, or pulling off the plywood cladding beloved by previous owners to discover a beautiful staircase intact with spindles and oak newel posts, as well as fine panelled doors.

Then there was the glass. A quarter-inch thick panel etched with a design showing a sheaf of corn was discovered in the cellar covered in dust and cobwebs and refitted in another door that had been spoilt with that nasty bobbly frosted glass. And a hatch into the attic - the original staircase had been removed for some inexplicable reason - with a border of beautiful Victorian glass in deep red, green and blue colours which let light stream down through the house.

The putty had gone rock hard, but I enjoyed the work of painstakingly applying paint stripper to soften it and then getting the precious glass re-cut to fit in a new skylight above our front door. More nasty glass - reeded this time - was taken out of the door itself and replaced with another quarter-inch etched panel to match the age of the house, decorated with birds this time. But it had taken me 20 years of rummaging in junk shops and architectural salvage yards to find a piece of exactly the right size.

Now, having seen stained glass artist Amy McCarthy's exhibition at Otterton Mill and her website at I'm wondering about how much more exciting it might be to take advantage of the sparkling maritime light and be inspired by the colourful surroundings that we enjoy in East Devon to install a specially commissioned piece of glass in our new home.

Actually, as I write this, mid-morning, it's difficult to appreciate those colours in the swirling sea mist.

The works at Otterton Mill are all inspired by local landscapes, from Poltimore House to Sidmouth beach and incorporate found objects, etching and acid etching, and recycled glass, says Amy. "All the pieces are made using traditional stained glass leading techniques and some of them are framed in reclaimed tulip tree frames, commissioned from a local carpenter, which look lovely."

Choosing the design for something like a specially commissioned stained glass panel is not to be undertaken in a hurry, as Amy recognises. "My process works like this," she explained. "I come and see you - you can come to me, but as it's site specific it helps to see where it's going - and talk to you about what you like/don’t like and then I go away and do some sketches and if you choose one then I ask for a 20 % deposit at this point, make up the panel - with the process going up on my blog as I do it - and then you pay the balance on delivery. I insert internal strengthening steels on large panels to reinforce them and I have had numerous pieces fitted into double glazed units. I fit some windows myself, others need the help of a handy man/carpenter. I have contacts to help with this."

Commissioned work can be expensive of course. But searching for the perfect stained glass on ebay is time-consuming, and less creative than discussing ideas with an artist. "I try to keep my prices affordable," says Amy. "The two front door panels I have on my waiting list at the moment both cost between £400-£500, but they are quite big doors."

Exeter-based Amy McCarthy can be contacted on 01392 210863 or by email at

Pictured from the top are examples of Amy's work:
'Across the bay'
'Budleigh Salterton'
'Sunshine in the corn'

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