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Bespoke stained glass: Ester is keeping an ancient craft alive

By Heather Large | Features | Published:

Ester Naylor’s fascination with stained glass first began while watching her father bringing windows to life in his workshop.

Ester has started to restore the Light of the World window from St. Matthew’s Church

“It was like magic, watching these amazing creations grow from nothing,” says the 45-year-old.

Eager to get started, she began learning the craft at the age of nine and now runs her own business designing and creating one-of-a kind stained glass windows using the same traditional methods.

“My dad, Tony Naylor, worked for the well-known Birmingham stained glass firm Hardman Studios before going self-employed in the 1970s.

“I used to always be in his workshop cleaning things and watching him work. I found it fascinating so I asked him if I could have a go.

The stained glass window at SS Peter and Paul Catholic Primary Academy, Wolverhampton

“I started with some glass painting. At the time he had a big project going on in Scotland and my job was 24 little bees which are now in a window in Scotland – that was my first commission as a nine-year-old.

“I carried on watching him and learning. I travelled around the country with him,” explains Ester, who lives in Halesowen.

Her father, who has been in the industry for more than four decades, taught her everything he knew and over time she was able to build up enough skills to branch out on her own.

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“He was a brilliant teacher because he would just leave me to it and let me figure it out myself so I would learn. But if I got stuck, I could always ask him for advice. He’s the oracle and well-renowned in the industry so he knows everything,” says Ester.

Since 2002, she has been running her own business – Off The Wall Stained Glass – making bespoke windows for houses, churches, schools and businesses.

For each commission, the first step is to visit the space where the stained glass is going to be fitted to get a feel for it’s surroundings.

Ester loves working with glass and light

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“I look at how much light there is to work with it and whether it needs to fit in with any other windows or panels.

“I will draw the design which will depend on what the customer likes or dislikes. It’s very personalised and will be something unique to them.

“Once I’ve got an idea of the colours and the customer has approved the design, I will make a full-size template and cut the glass.

“Then I build it up with the lead and glass so it comes together piece by piece, it’s like a jigsaw. I have to then solder each joint to keep everything in place,” says Ester, who works in her home studio.

Finally the panel is cemented which gives the window strength and seals it against the wind and rain before it is polished.

She also carries out repair and restoration work and at the moment is working on bringing the Light of the World window from St. Matthew’s Church back to life.

Originally made in 1921 by Burlison and Grylls, who produced windows for churches across the country, it can usually be seen near the font in the nave.

Ester with one of her creations designed for a customer

“It’s lost quite a bit of glass, which needs to be replaced with new painted pieces. It will be dismantled and put together again with new lead.

“It’s usually the lead and the cement holding the glass together that deteriorates over time but the glass will usually go on for decades and decades,” says Ester.

“I like doing the windows for churches because that’s what I grew up watching my dad so I’m always reminded of him when I’m working on one. They are very beautiful because of the colours and the light,” she adds.

One of the highlights of her job is hosting workshops schools across the Midlands to teach youngsters about the craft and help them to design their own windows.

“The whole school gets involved and I teach the kids about stained glass and they have a go at making their own pieces using acrylic and paint so they have something to take home and keep.

“They will also do their designs for the school’s new window which might be based around a theme like a centenary.

Ester created this window for St Laurence Church Junior School in Northfield

“I take all of these designs, there might be 200 to 300, and I draw a design using all of their ideas. It’s quite a process. The kids absolutely love being involved and that their ideas are being used.

“I love working with the schools because it’s fun and there are usually lots of bright colours,”explains Ester.

She also enjoys being able to be creative with her designs and knowing that she’s playing a part in keeping the ancient tradition alive.

“I like the artistic part of it because I get to use these talents and I like working with colour and light. There aren’t many of us around doing this now, it’s become quite specialist.

“At one time everybody had stained glass in their homes, but now there’s not so many people wanting the traditional stained glass.

“I’ve been blessed with having nice customers. I also like being my own boss although it can be hard because you have to wear so many different hats but I enjoy it.

Ester says her father is pleased that she decided to follow in his footsteps and learn his trade. “He was a bit worried to begin with in case I wasn’t successful but now that I am, he’s very proud.

“He’s still working now and he will help me if I need it so the tables have turned,” she tells Weekend.

Heather Large

By Heather Large
Special projects reporter - @HeatherL_star

Senior reporter and part of the Express & Star special projects team specialising in education and human interest features.

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