Beautiful stained glass designed by Helen Whittaker



The team at Pearce Bottomley Architects do get out and about, and so on Monday we attended a talk on by artist Helen Whittaker from the Barley Studio.  Helen is a glazier and sculptor whose work is found in the abbeys of Westminster and Selby as well as the RAF Club in London.  It was inspiring to see how Helen’s love of great story telling artists such as Giotto, Vermeer and Caravaggio, as well more modern artists such Modigliani and Lichtenstein inspired her own art through their use of colour, composition and tension in their narrative.

She stressed how she has learnt something from every project and outlined below are her 7 points she considers when designing a stained glass window.

 1.       The history of the building

At Ely Cathedral, Helen design a series of windows for the new processional way leading to the Lady Chapel, using historical tones within a traditional geometric pattern that emphasis the movement from one chapel to another.

 2.       Architectural Space

Helen demonstrates a light hand at St. Peter & St. Mary's Church Stowmarket, Suffolk, with the four seasons and four elements tumbling across the four windows.  The sparseness of the design created a sense of balance as each of the four windows were of different heights and with various forms of tracery.

 3.       Purpose of the window

St Ethelburga’s Church in London was bombed by the IRA in 1995 and has since become a St. Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace.  Helen was commissioned to design a window that spoke of the future, so she depicted St Ethelburga walking across the window, using the shards of the bombed window in her gown as it flows behind her.

 4.       Light and the aspect of the window within the building

The commission at the RAF Club in London was a tricky one since the location of the proposed stained glass window had very little light.  Therefore the window, depicting the history of the RAF, was designed with that in mind, utilising gilding in the dark areas and maximising the available light to the top.

 5.       The relationship with other works of art

Since her windows often share the same space as other artworks, Helen is very aware of the wider context.  This is not only to prevent a clash of design but also to reinforce any wider stories.  Beverley Minster required a window that reinforced the idea of pilgrimage and as a result Helen designed not only a window but also seating, sculpture and candle holder to create an interconnected space.

 6.       The relationship between the window and the user.

Helen illustrated this point with St Brandon’s, Brancepeth, whose interior was destroyed in a fire.  To reinforce the idea that the church has been resurrected, as well as playing on the story of St Brandon’s journey to paradise, Helen designed a window achingly simple but bursting with tropical vibrancy.

 7.       Structural Limitations.

Helen concluded her talk with her controversial design at Westminster Abbey, where she worked with the artist Hughie O’Donogue.  The design used a variety of techniques which went someway to disguise some of the complicated structural supports that needed to be retained.

The event was hosted by the York Architectural Association, who hold a range of talks, many of which may be of huge interest to non-architects.  More details can be found at

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