Dave Griffin - Derbyshire's stained glass expert
PUBLISHED: 00:00 29 March 2018
To create glorious images and objects from stained glass requires a combination of artistic and engineering skills. Mike Smith meets expert Derbyshire practitioner Dave Griffin
The experience that inspired Dave Griffin to take up a new hobby which would lead to a radical change of career came on a visit he made 17 years ago to Lincoln Cathedral. Recalling this life-changing episode, Dave said: ‘It was a gloriously sunny day and light was streaming into the building through the church’s famous stained glass rose window. The radiant beauty of the colourful window was so magical that I determined there and then that I would learn the techniques of making stained glass art.’
Having enrolled on an appropriate adult education course, Dave became so enthused by his new hobby that he resolved he would take the brave step of giving up his job as a physiotherapist in order to become a full-time stained glass artist. Three years after embarking on his new career, he submitted examples of his work to the Worshipful Company of Glaziers and was lucky enough to receive one of only two Ashton Hill Awards given nationally each year to new practitioners. The award entitled him to six-week placements at Barley Studios in York and Hardman & Co in Birmingham, where he had the chance to greatly extend the techniques he had acquired.
Dave lives with his wife, a retired health worker, in Bakewell but his studio is located in Great Longstone, where he works in concentrated isolation on the design and construction of his stained glass windows. Each original design is laid out in the form of a large-scale drawing called a cartoon that becomes a template on which carefully selected and skilfully-cut pieces of coloured glass are placed. Painting, staining and enamelling might be applied to some areas to add detail before the painstaking process is completed by slotting and soldering the pieces of the jigsaw into narrow lead strips called ‘came’.
Unlike many stained glass artists, Dave never uses a pattern book, preferring to create each unique design, not only in response to ideas put forward by the people who have commissioned the work, but also to complement the style of the dwelling in which it will be placed. Some windows are made to reflect the lives of the people in the house where the work will be installed, whilst others are stylised images of the local landscape or evocations of a part of the country that is especially meaningful for the client. Adding a further essential ingredient to this extensive recipe, Dave said, ‘I always aim to select a type of glass that is appropriate for the ambient light in the particular location.’
Not surprisingly, many of Dave’s local clients are keen to commission windows that reflect and celebrate the beauty of the surrounding Derbyshire landscape. A window depicting Carsington Water was commissioned by one client for a new extension to his house, whereas three door panels depicting scenes in the Dark Peak were required by another customer who wanted to make a striking entrance to his new bed and breakfast accommodation in the area. Dave obliged by creating images featuring the well-known landmarks of Froggatt Edge, Win Hill and Lose Hill.
A landscape composition based on the classic view of Ashford-in-the-Water and its famous Sheepwash Bridge was designed for a light-box panel, and a stained glass window made to capture the beauty of Bradford Dale has now been re-framed to enable the owners to re-install it in their new house. Explaining how another of his Peak District windows was designed for a dual purpose, Dave said, ‘I made a four-panel composition featuring Ladybower and Crook Hill, not only to add beauty to a large arch-topped sash window, but also to improve its thermal efficiency through the use of a mixture of mouth-blown and rolled glasses that were encapsulated in a double-glazed unit.’
All these landscape compositions celebrate the beauty of nature through the depiction of the curved forms that are the basis of that beauty. As if echoing the famous words of the Austrian-born artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who declared that ‘there are no straight lines in nature’, Dave says: ‘I love creating abstract compositions that are derived from nature and are based on the beauty of the curved form. One of my favourite curvilinear designs is called “Abstract Flow” and was created for no other purpose than to celebrate the beauty of light flowing through coloured glass.’
The curved form is very much in evidence in ‘Clematis Abstract’, a design made for an oriel window. Another curvilinear oriel window was fashioned for two artists who contributed their own ideas to the final form of the image. Yet another wavy abstract is called ‘Revelation’ and was inspired by a magnified view of a peacock feather. This particular window was entered for an exhibition curated by the British Society of Master Glass Painters, as was a panel called ‘Possibility’, prompted by a visit to Haddon Hall, where Dave saw the exquisite quarried windows in the Long Gallery for the first time.
Two windows where the artist has used curved forms in compositions designed to reflect the lives of the clients who commissioned them are ‘Cat Gazing at a Fly’, created for a family of cat-lovers, and ‘Stringed Abstract’, made for a family in which the father makes musical instruments and his two daughters are accomplished violinists.
As well as responding to orders from individual clients, Dave has fulfilled a number of commissions for windows in public buildings. One of the most satisfying of these was a request to create windows suitable for a multi-faith prayer room at the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield. His imaginative response to this task was to design a window called ‘Contemplation’ that would represent the ‘Circle of Life’ in all its elements. The composition comprises a salmon in the water, birds in the sky and grasses in the local landscape.
Whilst admitting that this image was designed specifically to aid contemplation, Dave says: ‘I create all my windows to enable people to realize their ideas and dreams through the medium of stained glass. Although I have not had any training in art, I believe that I have developed sufficient technique to regard myself as an artist who happens to make his pictures in the medium of stained glass.’
With the aim of passing on these techniques to people who are keen to learn something about making stained glass windows for themselves, Dave runs two three-day courses per year. Rather than basing these sessions in his workshop in Great Longstone, where the space is too confined for group activity, he uses the Friends Meeting House in Bakewell as a venue.
Seventeen years after visiting Lincoln Cathedral, where a magical experience inspired him to make a career change that has given him so much fulfilment, Dave recently paid his first visit to Gaudi’s unfinished church of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, where he had an equally magical and inspiring experience as he gazed in awe at the stunning stained glass windows designed by Joan Vila Grau to complement the fabulous architecture of the basilica through the radiant art of stained glass.
Dave Griffin’s stained glass workshop is located at Unit 6A, Great Longstone Business Park, Beggarway Lane, Great Longstone, Bakewell DE45 1TD. Tel: 07742 481930 (or 01629 814770 on evenings and at weekends; workshop visits by appointment). Examples of his work and information about courses can be found at www.dave-griffin.co.uk