The second feature in our occasional series on notable British institutions or organizations involved in stained glass, this month’s article looks at Barley Studio, which turns 40 this year.
In 1973, Keith Barley founded Barley Studio, working originally from his home in York, and later from the premises at Dunnington (just outside York), where the studio is still based today [Fig. 1]. Keith began his career as the first apprentice of the newly formed York Glaziers Trust, based at York Minster. He quickly took to the glazier’s craft, and during his time at the Trust was particularly inspired by its academic advisor Dr Peter Newton, whose understanding of stained glass and its iconography allowed him to decipher subject and meaning from an apparently meaningless jumble of fragments. Peter’s knowledge and enthusiasm were infectious and have informed Keith’s continuing desire to treat the windows in his care as ‘works of art rather than merely works of antiquity’.
Conserving and Restoring Our Heritage
Barley Studio has undertaken many important conservation and restoration projects throughout the UK. When Keith began working in the 1970s, his wish to respect imagery, meaning, and above all the intentions of the original artist, challenged the prevailing conservation ethics of the time (themselves conceived in response to earlier restorations, in which original glass had been replaced wholesale by newly painted windows). Two important projects that exemplify Keith’s approaches are the parish churches of St Nicholas, Stanford on Avon, and St Mary, Fairford.
Between 1984 and 1997, Barley Studio conserved and restored all 13 windows of St Nicholas’s Church, Stanford on Avon. This church houses an important glazing scheme dating back to the first half of the fourteenth century, as well as heraldic glass and donor figures (relating largely to members of the locally prominent Cave family) of the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The relocation of this later glass from the Cave family residence during the eighteenth century, along with repairs and restorations over time, had resulted in the fragmentation of the original scheme, which by the early 1980s resembled a giant jigsaw puzzle. The conservation ethics of the time would have suggested conserving the glass as found, keeping the interventions and repairs of previous restorers rather than attempting to restore the original iconography; indeed, these were the instructions from the Council for the Care of Churches when Keith began work: ‘there must be no-rearrangement whatsoever without specific approval from the committee … approval must be given in each case’. However, Keith felt strongly that the jigsaw could be reassembled and reordered in a way that would more closely resemble the original scheme, allowing future generations to better understand and appreciate these remarkable, and beautiful, windows.
In order to decipher the original iconography and subject arrangement, Keith worked closely with art historians Dr Peter Newton and Professor Richard Marks. Keith inspected each panel and examined the shapes of the window openings to work out from where each panel might have originated, and discussed first with Peter and, following Peter’s death early in the project, with Richard the implications for the overall scheme. As an example, small figures of Christ in Majesty and the Virgin Enthroned were present in the heads of two different chancel windows. By close examination of both the panel shapes and the iconography, it was possible to deduce that these figures were originally together, depicting the Coronation of the Virgin, so they were reunited into their original openings in the south-east aisle window [Fig. 2].
The work at Stanford on Avon was grant aided by the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the policy of whose advisors (English Heritage) was to pay only for conservation, not restoration. Whilst they were persuaded to allow Keith to re-order the windows and restore the original iconography, they drew the line at funding the creation of new painted insertions to replace missing areas of the imagery. This approach would have left the existing blank (unpainted) glass in important areas; for example, the complete figure of the Virgin Enthroned had been reunited with the nearly complete Christ in Majesty, who was unfortunately missing his head. Keith felt so strongly that such areas should be restored that he offered to pay for the painted insertions himself; in this unusual and unfamiliar situation, English Heritage decided to leave the final decision to the client, who willingly accepted the new painted pieces [Fig. 3].
Following this work at Stanford on Avon, Keith adopted a similar approach to the conservation and restoration of the windows of St Mary’s Church, Fairford, Gloucestershire. Between 1987 and 2010, Barley Studio conserved, restored and protected all 28 windows of this unique and world-famous late medieval glazing scheme. Keith is extremely proud that their work at Fairford was recognized in 1998 by the award of the prestigious National Award for Conservation, bestowed jointly by the Jerwood Foundation and the Museums and Galleries Commission; this remains the only National Award for Conservation to be made in the stained glass discipline. Although initially seen by some as controversial, Keith’s working methods have now largely been accepted, and have also informed conservation projects elsewhere. As Sarah Brown, Director of the York Glaziers Trust, comments: ‘The sensitive approach to the balance between conservation and restoration achieved by Barley Studio at both Stanford on Avon and Fairford revealed to many the capacity of stained glass conservation to transform public engagement with the medium. Both projects also highlighted the importance of collaboration between conservators and scholars, an approach very much in step with the way we now work at the York Glaziers Trust.’
Protecting Endangered Historic Glass
Having conserved and restored these fine examples of medieval art, it was important to protect and preserve them for future generations to enjoy. From the beginning of his career, Keith was particularly interested in the decay of glass, and how this deterioration might be prevented or at least reduced. Inspired by a report on ‘isothermal’ protective-glazing systems in use in Europe by Ian Addy, from the York Glaziers Trust, Keith designed his own system in 1975 to protect the fifteenth-century glass of St Michael’s Church, Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire. This was the earliest truly isothermal installation in the UK, and Keith has been championing the protection of endangered glass in this way ever since. In 1986, he was awarded a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship to tour Europe studying existing isothermal installations, with the objective of combining the best materials, methods and installation techniques in use at that time to develop a system applicable to the specifically British architectural situation. The collaborative effort of conservators, glaziers, scientists and architects led to the design of a system which makes minimal (and reversible) intervention to the surrounding architecture, and which can be adopted as an extension of the glazier’s craft. Keith also investigated the properties of various materials, and found that bronze alloys such as manganese and phosphor bronze had suitable properties (strength, bending, availability and cost) to construct frames around stained glass panels in order to mount the glass to the inside of the new protective glazing. Over the years since his Fellowship, Keith has trained many others in the construction and installation of isothermal protective-glazing systems, and this approach is now being used by leading cathedral glass conservation studios such as York, Canterbury and Lincoln, as well as independent studios throughout the country.
Creating New Work to Inspire Future Generations
Alongside his work with historic glass, Keith became interested in creating new stained glass windows, working alongside the renowned York glass-painter Harry Harvey. With Harry, Keith learned the importance of the leadlines shaping a design in stained glass, the collaboration between art and craft. In 1996, Barley Studio worked with the stained-glass artist Patrick Reyntiens and the architect Martin Stancliffe to produce the new Great West Window for Southwell Minster, Nottinghamshire. Building on these collaborations, Keith employed stained-glass artist Helen Whittaker in 1998. New stained-glass windows have since been commissioned by Ely Cathedral, Beverley Minster, and the RAF Club in London, among many others. Helen has been awarded the prestigious Hancock Medal for High Achievement, as well as an Award of Merit for Craftmanship from The York Guild of Building (awarded to Helen Whittaker and Keith Barley for their work at Beverley Minster, 2006). In 2013, Keith and Helen worked with Royal Academician Hughie O’Donoghue to create two new stained-glass windows for Westminster Abbey to celebrate the diamond jubilee of the Queen’s Coronation; Hughie created the artwork, while Helen interpreted his paintings into glass, and the windows were made and installed by the Barley Studio team.
Working with Others
Throughout his career, Keith has recognized the importance of collaboration with other experts, as well as keeping abreast of developments elsewhere, through attending conferences such as those organized by the CVMA, the international body concerned with the study of medieval stained glass. Keith is now the Conservation Advisor to the British CVMA, as well as a board member of the International Scientific Committee for the Conservation of Stained Glass. In turn, Keith is deeply committed to the passing on of knowledge through training others; glaziers and conservators trained at Barley Studio have gone on to work in studios and museums all over the world. Barley Studio has also hosted many placements for students from the UK and abroad.
Over the past forty years, Barley Studio has been instrumental in challenging and developing the accepted ethics of conservation, restoration and preservation of stained glass. The case for isothermal protective glazing has now been largely accepted, and vulnerable glass is being preserved for future generations to enjoy, and indeed to work on again, should better techniques become available in the future. Stained-glass conservation is in increasingly safe hands, with ideas of collaboration between craftsmen, artists and scholars becoming the norm, and a new generation of conservators receiving academic training through programmes such as the University of York’s MA in Stained Glass Conservation and Heritage Management, as well as practical training and accreditation in studios. That is not to suggest that there is nothing left to be done, however. The aesthetic effects of protective glazing continue to stimulate debate, as do the appropriateness (or otherwise) of restoration and conservation treatments.
And so to the present day. The Studio continues to thrive under Keith Barley’s leadership, and the team is celebrating forty years of excellence in stained glass by expanding their premises in Dunnington with a new, purpose-built studio. All work is done in-house, with expertise in metalwork and period-style plain glazing alongside artists, glaziers, conservators and a trainee. A wide variety of backgrounds, from school leavers to graduates, and training programmes (NVQs, City and Guilds, degrees in arts, science and business) adds to the mix. The multi-skilled team is currently engaged in a major conservation project for Lichfield Cathedral, as well as creating striking new windows for Westminster Abbey, and many other projects in all areas of stained glass and glazing work. We look forward to the next forty years!
Alison Gilchrist, Barley Studio