‘Old Craft, New Art: An Artistic Journey’: A Lecture by Helen Whittaker

Fig.1. Helen Whittaker

Fig.1. Helen Whittaker

Helen Whittaker, Creative Director and Artist/Designer to Barley Studio, York, recently gave a lecture at the Stained Glass Centre, York, entitled ‘Old Craft, New Art: An Artistic Journey’. With the historic church of St Martin-cum-Gregory providing an appropriate backdrop, Helen began by describing her artistic inspirations, from Giotto to Warhol, hinting how her favourite artists and pieces have informed her passion for stained glass.

Helen then moved on to talk about her journey into the world of stained glass, through degrees, design competitions and commissions, and showed examples of her work, including windows installed at Ely Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Selby Abbey, Beverley Minster, Southwell Minster, Worksop Priory, and the Royal Air Force Club, London. It was very interesting to see examples of her sculptural designs in copper, and listen to her explain how these pieces link to her windows. For each of the windows she showed, she gave a fascinating insight into the thought-processes, aims, symbolism, and often hidden details behind and in the design. Notable was the window created for St Ethelburga’s church in London, a building that was virtually destroyed by an IRA bomb, but which has been repurposed as a centre for reconciliation and peace. Helen demonstrated how her new window, which shows St Ethelburga striding across the five lights, not only represents Faith moving forward, but incorporates fragments salvaged from the shattered original window of c.1872 by Kempe, a reminder of the past.

The final section of the lecture focused on what must be considered when designing a stained-glass window, and seven main points were outlined: the history of the building; the architectural space selected for the window; the purpose of the window; the light and the aspect of the window within the building; the relationship of the window to the works within the building; the relationship of the window to the people who use the building; and structural limitations. For each of these points Helen provided examples of her glass and demonstrated how her often innovative approaches to design have resulted in successful, well-received windows.

Throughout the talk, Helen emphasized the collaborative nature of stained-glass production, highlighting the input of the Barley Studio team. Her approachable, open way of speaking made for an enjoyable, accessible lecture that highlighted her considered way of interpreting a brief and meeting the specific needs of a client.

The lecture at the Stained Glass Centre was packed to capacity, and with tea, coffee, biscuits and excellent raffle prizes was memorable. Check the Stained Glass Centre website and look out for news of more upcoming lectures.

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