stained glass by Amanda Winfield

Amanda Winfield, Stained Glass

by Helen Johnson

For years, we at craft&design have been mystified about why crafts had such a low profile on TV. Now TV appears to have �discovered� craft, with a recent show from Channel 4 in which presenter Kirstie Allsopp furnished a house with feature items from British craftspeople. Each craftsperson demonstrated their craft and helped Kirstie to make an item. One of the featured crafts was stained glass, presented by Amanda Winfield.

Amanda was happy to show everyone her craft, and says, �My love of stained glass is nearly 25 years old.� She trained at Goddard and Gibbs studio in London, where, she says, �The concentration of skills was unbelievable - it was one of the biggest stained glass studios in the world. There was large scale work both here and abroad. For instance, we made windows for Westminster Abbey, and the Chapel Royal at St. James� Palace, London. They were prestigious projects.� She explains, �I had a sort of informal apprenticeship, starting at the bench, cutting glass and leading panels together. It was a fantastic way to learn the craft: being taught by artisans who had been working in stained glass since the 40s and 50s. Before going to Goddard and Gibbs, Amanda trained at Medway College of Art and Design, then at Chelsea School of Art. She studied Mural Design, a new course then, that included some stained glass work. However, she says, �When I left, I didn�t take my tutor�s advice - which was �you�re a natural at stained glass� - I got a job with Tom McPhillips, a stage designer.� �I enjoyed it, and learned a lot. I was only 24 and was left in charge of major projects.� This experience stood her in good stead after she joined Goddard and Gibbs, and, she says, �By the time I left, in 2002, I was workshop manager, responsible for all the stained glass projects.�

Although she loved working at Goddard and Gibbs, in 2002, Amanda left, in order to found her own business. This was partly because by then she had young children and needed to work more flexibly, and partly because, although as manager, she was involved in every project, she missed the hands-on creativity of working at the bench. Therefore, Amanda built a studio at her home in Surrey, and founded Abinger Stained Glass. She says, �The first five years felt like walking up a slagheap, two steps up and three steps back. But setting up any business is like that. And, most importantly, I got my creativity back.�

Amanda relishes creating stained glass in a whole range of styles. She says, �I�ve now got so much background knowledge, it�s like having a library in my brain of all the different types of glass, all the artistic styles, and all the historical periods, from Mediaeval, through Arts and Crafts, up to Contemporary.� �Then there are the applications. I might use fused glass in leaded panels - it gives another dimension to some projects. And I enjoy casting natural forms in glass - it appears textured, but on closer inspection, you can see that it is, say, a textured fern frond.�

She enthuses, �There�s something magical that happens when light passes through coloured glass. That�s one reason why it is used in ecclesiastical buildings.�

The Victorians brought stained glass into the home, thanks to both economic and technological advances. Nowadays, says Amanda, �Everybody can have beautiful stained glass in their home - even if it�s just a small hanging costing �5. It will change the colour of the light as it enters the house and be different at different times of day.� Amanda has no favourite design style, saying, �I love them all. I have some on my drawing board now and they�re all so different. It�s because I sit down with a customer, absorb what they�re saying, then design something personal to them. It�s very interesting, and really nice that I can use all my knowledge, and not be restrained by one particular style.� With this enthusiasm, when the TV company approached Amanda, she had no hesitation in agreeing to the project. She describes how it all happened: �The researcher rang me up, explained the show, and asked if I�d be interested. I replied that anything promoting British Crafts gets my vote.�

�Following that first call, they sent a producer with a camera to do a piece from myself to camera. That was submitted to C4, and after they�d seen it, they said they�d like to go with me.� Amanda was filmed helping Kirstie to make a piece of free hanging stained glass for the bathroom window at her house, Meadowgate in Devon.

Amanda says, �It was a nice little piece. I think she did well. Glass is very good to film and I was very pleased with what they did.�

After the show�s transmission, she says, �In the first week, I had lots of course enquiries, and then lots of course bookings. Although I�ve had more commissions, sadly, many people still think that (buying commissioned) stained glass is out of their league. I�m trying to put something on the website to show that it�s not just for millionaires - that people can have something for around �150-200.�

Following her TV appearance, she says, �Website hits are up by four times. And I�m on the Channel 4 website, which is becoming a good place to go for all sorts of crafts.�

She adds, �Since the programme was made, I asked them why they picked me. They said that there were three main reasons. The first was my experience - I�d had over 20 years in glass.�

�The second was that I was good at explaining the processes, details and history. They needed someone so familiar with the craft that they could explain it in simple, clear terms and be a good teacher for Kirstie.� �The third was that they felt that my passion and love of the craft was clear to see, which was important when they were encouraging viewers to take an interest in the craft.�

Amanda feels that these skills have developed over her career, having trained students at Goddard and Gibbs, and run courses at her own studio. She says, �I�ve always been happy to teach. It�s such fun inspiring people. I had two people last Saturday. They went away so happy, inspired and planning their next project. You never know, they might be the next big thing in stained glass.�

People love stained glass, she says, �Because you hang up the piece you make and it glows with the changing light. Once people get the bug, they return and buy bits of glass, or they phone up and ask questions. I�m happy to help.� However, it seems that this enthusiasm was not shared by some TV reviewers. Amanda says, �I read the reviews, and one mentioned �smug craftspeople who either love their work very much, or are overcharging grossly�.� This made Amanda cross, knowing that few self-employed craftspeople make even the minimum wage for the hours they work. She comments, �If you�re happy at work, people are very suspicious.�

Despite this, Amanda�s plans for the future are, �To just carry on. I try to keep promoting stained glass locally and as much as possible on the web. I have plans for an online shop. I tried it a few years ago and found it difficult to juggle it with commissions. But now I�m lucky to have help from Mannon, who comes and works with me. Amanda enjoys having an assistant, she says, �It�s great to have someone with whom to share ideas.� They also share a sense of humour, which means that the workshop is a very happy place to work and, adds Amanda, �She is a very talented artist, so I had better watch out!�

With Mannon�s help, Amanda says, �We hope to stock the online shop with fused glass, light catchers, and lots of lovely glassy bits and pieces.�

Technically, she says, �I do the lot: lead work, traditional stained glass, fused glass, and copper foil work. I also use handmade fused glass in lead work - that adds a new dimension to leaded panels. I�m trying to make glass �speak�. Some windows can be a bit flat. I try to combine colour, textures, transparent and opal, to make the glass �glassy�.� With an all-encompassing view of her craft that runs over hundreds of years of styles and techniques, Amanda is not afraid of introducing new developments, and says, �I can do double glazing too. I can encapsulate traditional lead stained glass in a sealed unit, so you get the energy saving and safety options.�

And, in a final touch of practicality, she adds, �It�s easy to clean too.�

Amanda Winfield
T: 01306 730617

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