The Riverside Café Gallery has just welcomed the Glass Easel Collective, a group of six stained glass artists from Surrey who share a talent and passion for glass. Celebrating an art with a thousand-year history, their exhibition brings together a selection of their work with the use of lightboxes to showcase the beauty of their craft. We spoke to three members of the collective, Maggie Beal, Helen Russell Jessica Stroud and Rachel Mulligan to find out more about their practice.
What are you working on at the moment and where do you find ideas for your work?
Maggie Beal: I am making small pieces of fused glass depicting the landscape through the seasons. I find inspiration for my work whilst out in the countryside or by going to exhibitions and visiting churches.
Helen Russell: I am working on a commission for a public house in a Surrey village. My inspiration has come from looking at interesting shaped and beautifully coloured bottles with overlapping colours. The design will reflect these themes and I will use engraving and glass painting to create beautiful stained-glass windows using traditional techniques.
Jessica Stroud: I’m just about to start designing an internal transom window for a local house. I find ideas for my work from looking at art, especially woodcuts and linocuts. Nature is also a big source of inspiration for me.
Rachel Mulligan: I am working on a commission for three exhibition panels for the Royal College of Nursing inspired by the emotions of modern nursing. The triptych is entitled Nursing Life.
What medium do you use in your practice and why?
MB: I use traditional methods of glass painting on ‘antique’ handblown glass. Each piece of glass is individually made with small bubbles and imperfections. This gives the glass a translucency and uniqueness which makes it a delight to work with.
HR: I use mouth blown and flashed glass where possible because of the way it transmits light and comes in so many amazing colours. It can be engraved to reveal the colours beneath and then painted and stained giving depth to my projects.
JS: I fell in love with glass as soon as I cut my first piece, leaded it together with another piece and held it up to the light. What I find compelling about glass as a medium is how different light sources change the quality of the work. This can be seen to great effect in stained glass windows in local churches up and down the country.
RM: I work with stained glass and use mouth-blown glass sheets as they are exquisitely beautiful as a raw material.
What motivates you to make work, who do you believe has influenced your career and inspired you to start?
MB: I am motivated by seeing other artists’ work, particularly those of the Arts and Crafts period. I’ve been inspired by Christopher Whall, Harry Clarke and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Rachel Mulligan has also been an inspiration to me, since she first taught me at an adult education class twenty years ago.
HR: I am very influenced by nature and the natural world, plants insects and animals. I also love modern stained glass where I use lots of mouth blown roundels in my designs. I was tutored from the beginning by Rachel Mulligan and 20 years later I still turn to her for advice.
JS: The glass! I especially love using mouth blown antique glass and have an ever growing collection of English Antique and Lamberts glass. Local Artist Rachel Mulligan has been most influential in my career, teaching me different methods of glass making and being the first person to introduce me to traditional glass painting. I have also enjoyed working with Graham Dowding who is the Stained Glass Conservator for the windows in Gloucester Cathedral. I am a member of the British Society of Master Glass Painters and their quarterly lectures are very educational.
RM: I have been a professional artist for over thirty years and I love what I do. I am inspired by Medieval art and the changing seasons. I was taught stained glass at Central St Martins by Caroline Swash and I’m still in touch with her. I continue to learn and grow as an artist through The British Society of Master Glass Painters, where I am an Associate and on their Council.
If you could name one, what is your favourite piece of work you have created, and why?
MB: Probably the piece for this exhibition. I’ve enjoyed using a variety of techniques and experimenting with colour and texture to create patterns within the piece.
HR: My favourite commission was a painted stained-glass panel with a countryside theme for a pretty farmhouse in Sussex. I had the freedom to create an original design inspired by the countryside around the farmhouse.
JS: My favourite is currently the panel ‘Little Birds’, which is on show in the Farnham Maltings Riverside Café and Galley at the moment. Garden birds bring me a lot of joy and it is so nice to be able to capture something of them in glass.
RM: My Poppies panel has touched the most people of all my creations. It shows that stained glass can be beautiful and poignant at the same time, and it is especially relevant at this time of year.
If you can name one, what is your proudest achievement?
MB: Coming second in the Stevens Competition of Architectural Glass run by the Worshipful Company of Glaziers.
HR: I am proud of the work that I have created but I am most proud of the achievements of the people I have taught stained glass to. I teach from my home studio and also at Guildford Adult Education Centre.
JS: I’m very proud of the collaboration I did with Rachel Mulligan (Surrey Artist of the Year 2014), completed in 2017 as part of Surrey Artists’ Open Studios. The brief was to design and make a Chinese dragon for her garden studio doors during the 15 days of Open Studios. It was the biggest work I have been involved in to date and I learnt a lot from the process.
RM: My Labours of the Months series was bought by Godalming Museum with funding from the V&A.
What is the most indispensable item in your studio?
MB: My diamond headed glass cutter.
HR: My glass cutter, and my supply of stunning mouth blown glass.
JS: My kiln.
RM: My kiln and stock of beautiful mouth-blown glass sheets.
Where is your favourite place to see art
MB: In a church. You’re never quite sure when you open the door what beautiful works of art you’re going to find.
HR: My favourite place to see stained glass is Ely Glass Museum. I was also blown away looking at the Harry Clarke glass windows at Ashdown Park.
JS: I enjoy seeing stained glass windows wherever I am. I always try to make an effort to scout round for local churches or cathedrals so that I can spend a few hours gazing at the windows, working out how a particular piece was made. The V&A Museum in London also has an impressive collection of stained glass, some pieces of which are from the Medieval period. I still can’t get over how they managed to produce the magnificent glass we can still see today without an electric kiln or modern tools!
RM: The Stained Glass Museum in Ely
The Glass Easel Collective exhibition runs in the Riverside Café Gallery from 9th November– 5th December 2019
and is accessible during the café’s opening hours.