Stained Glass on the Brink of Extinction - Your Country Needs You! ✊

New research by Heritage Crafts has unearthed more traditional craft skills on the verge of extinction in the UK, in the latest major update of its pioneering project, the Red List of Endangered Crafts. With the cumulative effect of the energy crisis, inflation, COVID19, Brexit and funding issues, some of our most beloved heritage crafts face an uncertain future. Stained glass is one such endangered craft.

The Community of the Tree of Life, Leicester
Guest blog by Derek Hunt Artist, longtime member of the CraftCourses makers' community. You can read more about Dereks' fascinating story with glass in the CraftCourses blog - Heroes Protecting our Heritage.
Derek Hunt 'self portrait'
When I read that stained glass has recently been added to the list of Endangered Crafts, I was reminded of Danny DeVito’s speech in the film Other People’s Money when he talked about the last remaining company making buggy whips (a type of whip formerly used by drivers of horse-drawn carriages) - 

“And I’ll bet the last company around made the best god damn buggy whip you ever saw!” 

It struck a chord when I first heard it back in 1991, and really hits hard today. Let me put this in context for you.
In a move that has been met with dismay by many, the Heritage Crafts Association has added traditional stained glass window making to its Red List of Endangered Crafts for 2023. The Heritage Crafts Association is a registered UK charity set up to support and promote traditional crafts. The charity was launched at the Victoria and Albert Museum in March 2010, with a membership programme for supporters, and since October 2021 it has been operating under the name Heritage Crafts.
St. Felix RC Church, Haverhill

The Red List of Endangered Crafts 2023 

ublished by Heritage Crafts, The Red List of Endangered Crafts is a list of crafts that are at risk of disappearing altogether. The association's decision to add stained glass to the list is a significant warning that the craft is in serious trouble.
Millmead Church, Guildford

The decision was made after a lengthy review of the state of the craft, which found that it was facing a number of serious challenges. Founded in 1921, The British Society of Master Glass Painters (BSMGP) is the pre-eminent organisation advocating for stained glass in Britain, and its members include historians, researchers, conservators, students and, importantly, many leading artists in contemporary stained glass.
Masque Theatre, Latimer College Kettering

The BSMGP had provided Heritage Crafts with a range of data from various sources for the expert panel to consider, including surveys of the Society’s membership, and lists the challenges currently faced by stained glass practitioners as follows: 
  • A decline in demand for large scale traditional stained glass 
  • Ageing skilled practitioners. 
  • Lack of opportunities to pass on skills to the next generation. 
  • Decline in Educational opportunities and courses 
  • Lack of training and opportunities in larger companies 
  • Ever increasing material costs 

So, now you’re up to speed with the current problems facing this craft. To be honest, many of us working in this field have known about these problems for some time.
St. Dunstan's RC Church, Woking

Decline in demand for large scale new work 

Having run my own studio for the best part of 40 years, I can attest to a decline in demand for new stained glass. The traditional home for this most colourful and expressive of mediums has always been the church, and today we see a greatly depleted church infrastructure which must prioritise maintenance of its ageing buildings above the introduction of new glass art. As a result, the conservation arm of stained glass is still a relatively buoyant market, with a number of established larger studios in the UK competing for prestigious conservation projects for the likes of the Houses of Parliament and our great cathedrals.
St. Barbara's Church, Earlsdon

In stark contrast to this, there are precious few new commissions around for the dwindling stock of contemporary artists who specialise in making new stained glass art. Traditional stained glass doesn’t really fit in well with our modern building vernacular of double glazed units and plastic window frames. As a result, traditional stained glass made with handmade coloured glass, meticulously painted and stained by hand, has been pushed aside in favour of more cost effective and building friendly techniques such screen printing and air brushing colour directly onto new glass - these newer decorative glass techniques make double glazing an easy option, and as a result find favour with building developers and architects.
St. Lawrence Church, Alton

Shortage of Skilled Practitioners 

Another factor contributing to the decline of stained glass window making, is the shortage of skilled practitioners. The craft of stained glass window making is a complex and demanding one, and it takes many years to learn the skills required to produce high-quality work. However, there are now very few people who have the opportunity to train as stained glass makers. Historically, there have been a couple of ways to learn how to make stained glass, either through an apprenticeship within an existing glass studio, or through attending an art college as a student.
New chapel at Millmead Baptist Church, Guildford

The art schools now offering stained glass as a degree subject have all but vanished, which stands in sharp contrast to the many courses available when I was in my early twenties learning stained glass at Edinburgh College of Art. I had the privilege of completing a 4-year undergraduate course specialising in stained glass design and making, and this course was comparable to the other degree courses at the time offered by Glasgow Art School, Central St. Martin’s in London, Swansea College of Art, and others.
Derek working in his Leicestershire studio

These art colleges were instrumental in kick starting the creative careers of many glass artists over decades. That has now ended. Stained glass is not the only applied art form to have been removed from the college curriculum, many material based art course subjects have been surpassed by the need to offer innovative digital subjects which reflect current employment trends.
Christchurch, Teddington, London

High Cost of Materials and Equipment 

The high cost of materials and equipment is another factor that is contributing to the decline of stained glass window making. The materials used in stained glass windows, such as coloured glass, lead, and solder, are all relatively expensive. In addition, the specialised tools and equipment that are required for the craft can also be very costly. As a result, the cost of producing stained glass windows is often prohibitive for many people, and probably one of the additional deciding factors in its removal from college curriculums.
Handsworth Grammar School

The Future of Stained Glass 

The decision by the Heritage Crafts Association to add stained glass to its Red List of Endangered Crafts is a wake-up call for all who care about the future of this traditional craft. If we are to prevent stained glass window making from disappearing altogether, we need to take action now.
Glass painting students

The single best thing would be to reinstate these degree courses in art colleges, but I don’t think that will happen any time soon. However, there are several things that can be done to reverse the situation. One important step is to raise awareness of the craft. We need to let people know that stained glass is not just a decorative art form, but also a valuable part of our ongoing cultural heritage.
Stained glass students

To be honest, encouraging people to value our great stained glass heritage has never been a hard ask, most people respond very favourably to stained glass when they see it in our cathedrals and parish churches. The popularity of such TV programmes as The Repair Shop and The Prince's Master Crafters attest to the fact that heritage crafts occupy a warm and fuzzy place in our hearts. That’s not the problem.
New generation of glass artists?

The problem is, if we just love and concentrate on stained glass made in the past, we run the very real risk of starving it of any future. Giving all our attention and resources to conservation of old stained glass, without investing in the next generation of creatives who can continue the artistic journey, will ultimately do more harm than good. We will simply allow a vibrant artform to slip into obscurity, resigned to a museum curiosity from the past – just like the last buggy whip.
Student's stained glass work

I believe stained glass needs to shake off the perception of being associated with church art. It needs to re-invent itself as a contemporary art form with something to say to today’s generations about today’s world. Large scale architectural glass installations are few and far between for most practising artists, so new avenues need to be explored. Collaborations can be very fruitful, bringing the skills of a number of different disciplines to the party, and can offer the possibility of emerging new design styles. Painters, photographers, graffiti artists, illustrators, interior designers and others could all find inspiration and new visual languages if they were offered the opportunity to explore glass creatively. Now that art colleges have abandoned the subject, we need to find novel ways to reach out to these creatives.
Symington Building District Council Offices

Social media is the most powerful way to reach people, and stained glass is sorely under-represented in any meaningful artistic sense on platforms such as Instagram and YouTube. There are many hobbyists offering ways to make glass, but very few serious artists are willing to talk about their processes and methods, preferring to remain aloof and distant. I think this has to change, and for the past two and a half years I have been interviewing a number of contemporary glass artists on my YouTube channel, as a way of elevating the profile of good glass art to a new audience who only think stained glass belongs in churches. This form of social media outreach is essential if modern stained glass is to continue to have a seat at the table.
Symington Building District Council Offices

Another avenue worth exploring is art galleries. In the past, art galleries have been reluctant or unable to show stained glass because it is hard to display. These issues have been resolved to some extent by LED light pad technology which allows glass to be displayed on gallery walls easily and conveniently. Reframing stained glass as an accessible, desirable contemporary art form is well overdue. Raising the cultural value of stained glass outside the context of church art is essential to its survival, otherwise it will forever be thought of as a marginal art form of the past.
St. Dunstan's RC Church, Woking

Thankfully there is some financial help still available to contemporary glass artists. The Worshipful Company of Glaziers is one of the distinguished Livery Companies of London and offers a number of travel scholarships and grants for younger glass artists to study at some of the best studios in this country and abroad. The work of the Glaziers Livery Company is to be commended and is a lifeline for many young glass makers who struggle to find mentors to help them develop their skills. The British Society of Master Glass Painters offers the Benyon Study Award, and the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust offers scholarships and apprenticeship funding.
Student's painted glass work

Finally, we need to support the work of those who are already working in the craft. We need to buy their work, commission new pieces, and support their businesses. By taking these steps, we can help to ensure that the craft of stained glass window making has a future.
Royal Victoria Hospital, Edinburgh

Derek Hunt Artist 

Derek Hunt is a glass artist and educator, a Fellow of the British Society of Master Glass Painters, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and an Accredited Stained Glass Conservator with over 37 years experience running his own studio. He designs and makes glass artworks for public spaces, private homes and churches, makes traditional stained glass and enjoys working with new techniques to push the creative boundaries of the medium. His YouTube channel champions contemporary stained glass and offers tutorials and inspiration artist interviews from some of the best glass artists working today.

You can learn the heritage crafts of stained glass making and glass painting with Derek in his beautiful Leicestershire studio and help to keep this important craft and tradition alive for generations to come.

All images are courtesy of Derek Hunt Artist and depict a selection of his work, his students and his workshop environment.


Financial help for Glass Artists:


Worshipful Company of Glaziers

QEST Scholarships

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