Let the light in

Eternal sacred light.

Eternal sacred light.

WAVES OF COLOUR: Stonemason and stained glass window maker Reuben Tait, originally of Dunedin, and Gisborne artist Jessie Blackwood, flank two of Tait’s leaded light windows. Picture by Liam Clayton

An old courthouse in Dunedin is where stonemason Reuben Tait first fell in love with stained glass. He was working on the historic building, and on Iona Church in Port Chalmers. While there, he met Peter Mackenzie who restored leaded light windows.

“He said ‘come to my studio and you can make your own’. He took me through the process. I can’t paint but I can carve. I take away material from a stone block and create something.”

Now he’s found a passion for stained glass window-making, that’s all he wants to do, he says.

“Once I got into it I got intrigued. I’ve been enjoying working with birds and New Zealand themes.”

He also uprooted from Dunedin, where the South Island light is pearly and silvery, he says, to come to Gisborne to be with partner Jessie Blackwood. Compared with the South Island, Pacific light on the East Coast is particularly Pacificky and lends itself not only to hard-edged painting but the black lines that give stained glass windows the alternative name of leaded light.

“I moved up here to be with Jess,” says Tait.

“And he brought his windows,” says Blackwood.

Tait’s first window depicts a kingfisher perched on a stem of scarlet harakeke. The green leaves in glass have a smooth but uneven texture. When back-lit, tones vary from emerald to Dartmouth green. The leaves unravel from a woven pattern made up of lozenges of amber, gold, red, brown and sea green that comprise the bottom half of the window.

Blackwood painted the kingfisher, and a shag at the heart of a logarithmic spiral in another work.

Stained glass lends itself to the iridescent colours of the kingfisher (kotare). Copper oxide or cobalt gives the bird’s wings its electric blue colour while a silver paste that reacts with the glass when heated in a kiln turns to gold, the colour seen on the kingfisher’s chest and face in Tait’s work.

Glass for the kingfisher was hand-made and imported in sheet form from France. The green glass used for the flax leaves came from the US while glass for the clouds behind the kotare came from Germany.

“When there’s bright, natural light in it, it sparkles,” says Blackwood of the cloud glass.

Depending on which country it comes from the glass is produced in various ways, from blown to rolled.

Glass blowing for hollow items originated with first century AD Phoenicians along the Syrian-Palestinian coast and the method spread across the European continent

The mouth-blown cylinder technique of making sheet glass for windows was developed in Germany. This product is known as crown glass because manufacture began with a ball of semi-molten glass on the end of a blowpipe that opened outwards on the far end of the pipe like a crown. Transferred from blowpipe to an iron rod known as a pontil, the glass was flattened into a disc-shape by reheating and spinning.

Centrifugal force meant the glass was thinner at the circumference than at the centre area around the pontil mark. The “bullseye” was used for less expensive windows. To fill large window spaces with the best glass, artisans cut small diamond shapes from the edge of the disc and mounted the pieces in a lead lattice work which fitted into the window frame.

The French glass makers who perfected the crown glass, mostly around Rouen, kept it a trade secret. As a result, crown glass was not made in London until 1678.

Tait’s window with the shag and logarithmic spiral is made up of three horizontal panes. The spiral evolves fractally from what is often referred to as the golden section. The mathematical ratio phi is found in nature in the nautilus shell, and in face of a sunflower, and in architecture such as the Parthenon in Greece. Tait’s logarithmic spiral is mostly filled with abstracted, golden kowhaiwhai flower forms. This is set in a nacreous sea of paua blues and greens that flow upwards into a sky backdrop in the middle pane.

A leaded light window Tait is designing now will feature swallows.

“I like to work with geometric shapes,” he says.

“This piece is based on a vesica piscis shape.”

The vesica piscis is the shape formed by the intersection of two circles with the same radius. Swallows will fly out of the form in opposing directions.

“The meaning of the window is to do with how two things can simultaneously happen that might not be foreseeable.”

An old courthouse in Dunedin is where stonemason Reuben Tait first fell in love with stained glass. He was working on the historic building, and on Iona Church in Port Chalmers. While there, he met Peter Mackenzie who restored leaded light windows.

“He said ‘come to my studio and you can make your own’. He took me through the process. I can’t paint but I can carve. I take away material from a stone block and create something.”

Now he’s found a passion for stained glass window-making, that’s all he wants to do, he says.

“Once I got into it I got intrigued. I’ve been enjoying working with birds and New Zealand themes.”

He also uprooted from Dunedin, where the South Island light is pearly and silvery, he says, to come to Gisborne to be with partner Jessie Blackwood. Compared with the South Island, Pacific light on the East Coast is particularly Pacificky and lends itself not only to hard-edged painting but the black lines that give stained glass windows the alternative name of leaded light.

“I moved up here to be with Jess,” says Tait.

“And he brought his windows,” says Blackwood.

Tait’s first window depicts a kingfisher perched on a stem of scarlet harakeke. The green leaves in glass have a smooth but uneven texture. When back-lit, tones vary from emerald to Dartmouth green. The leaves unravel from a woven pattern made up of lozenges of amber, gold, red, brown and sea green that comprise the bottom half of the window.

Blackwood painted the kingfisher, and a shag at the heart of a logarithmic spiral in another work.

Stained glass lends itself to the iridescent colours of the kingfisher (kotare). Copper oxide or cobalt gives the bird’s wings its electric blue colour while a silver paste that reacts with the glass when heated in a kiln turns to gold, the colour seen on the kingfisher’s chest and face in Tait’s work.

Glass for the kingfisher was hand-made and imported in sheet form from France. The green glass used for the flax leaves came from the US while glass for the clouds behind the kotare came from Germany.

“When there’s bright, natural light in it, it sparkles,” says Blackwood of the cloud glass.

Depending on which country it comes from the glass is produced in various ways, from blown to rolled.

Glass blowing for hollow items originated with first century AD Phoenicians along the Syrian-Palestinian coast and the method spread across the European continent

The mouth-blown cylinder technique of making sheet glass for windows was developed in Germany. This product is known as crown glass because manufacture began with a ball of semi-molten glass on the end of a blowpipe that opened outwards on the far end of the pipe like a crown. Transferred from blowpipe to an iron rod known as a pontil, the glass was flattened into a disc-shape by reheating and spinning.

Centrifugal force meant the glass was thinner at the circumference than at the centre area around the pontil mark. The “bullseye” was used for less expensive windows. To fill large window spaces with the best glass, artisans cut small diamond shapes from the edge of the disc and mounted the pieces in a lead lattice work which fitted into the window frame.

The French glass makers who perfected the crown glass, mostly around Rouen, kept it a trade secret. As a result, crown glass was not made in London until 1678.

Tait’s window with the shag and logarithmic spiral is made up of three horizontal panes. The spiral evolves fractally from what is often referred to as the golden section. The mathematical ratio phi is found in nature in the nautilus shell, and in face of a sunflower, and in architecture such as the Parthenon in Greece. Tait’s logarithmic spiral is mostly filled with abstracted, golden kowhaiwhai flower forms. This is set in a nacreous sea of paua blues and greens that flow upwards into a sky backdrop in the middle pane.

A leaded light window Tait is designing now will feature swallows.

“I like to work with geometric shapes,” he says.

“This piece is based on a vesica piscis shape.”

The vesica piscis is the shape formed by the intersection of two circles with the same radius. Swallows will fly out of the form in opposing directions.

“The meaning of the window is to do with how two things can simultaneously happen that might not be foreseeable.”

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