Thomas Denny is one of the few people left in Britain making stained glass for churches. He spoke to Mary Miers; portraits by Richard Cannon for Country Life.
Thomas Denny’s work is rooted in the traditions of the great medieval stained-glass makers. Informed by his love of landscape and beautiful buildings – he grew up partly at Daneway in the Cotswolds; his uncle was the architect Oliver Hill – he makes windows that are not only pictures hidden in colourful patterns, but complex interweavings of naturalistic and biblical imagery, radiant and spiritual.
‘I love the idea of landscape being a vehicle for sacred ideas,’ says Mr Denny, who is based in rural Dorset and whose commissions include three projects at Gloucester Cathedral and a window of reconciliation at St John’s Roman Catholic Church in Tralee, Co Kerry.
He is seen here at All Saints, Woodford, with his memorial window inspired by Psalm 65 (‘The meadows are covered with flocks/and the valleys are mantled with grain’).
Mr Denny describes his medium as ‘powerful and volatile… often too overwhelming for domestic settings’. He explains how stained glass can be deadened by adjacent clear glass: ‘When there’s no surrounding glare, it appears much richer. This intensity creates a feeling of enclosure that’s much more suited to places of contemplation.’
One window can take more than a year to complete, requiring – between initial site visits, paperwork and the final fixing – ‘months of quiet, steady work in the studio’. Once he has scaled up a small painting, he maps out the cut lines. The lead’s tumbling rhythms are composed to support rather than control the overall design.
Using a number of techniques, he then turns glass flashed with flat colour into glass with modulated colour and tone, imagery and texture. The process includes acid etching, ‘coaxing out the narrative detail’ with black paint, silver staining (a medieval technique that introduces lambent golds) and firing.
The glass pieces next go to a craftsman to be assembled and the window can finally be installed: ‘Then, it can really come alive; stained glass depends on honouring and collaborating with its context.’
See more of Thomas’s work at www.thomasdenny.co.uk
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