MAKING A CAREER OUT OF THE ANCIENT ARTFORM OF STAINED GLASS
Discover how Eastern Cape based stained glass artist and restorer David Manning, along with his expert team, preserve the practice of an 800+ year old craft.
The term-stained glass refers to coloured glass as a material and to works created from it. Stained-glass windows in churches and monasteries in Britain can be found as early as the 7th century. In South Africa, Artists like David Manning have made it their life’s work to keep this ancient art alive.
David was the first student at his Technikon to qualify with a diploma in Stained Glass. After his studies he travelled to Ireland to gain skills working in a factory before returning home. With over 20 years experience now, he’s made a name in the field of church restoration and glass painting.
He loves how varied his job is, from one day restoring an old window to another making a lamp shade, and the next designing a new window for a beautiful house.
“Stained glass is truly a team effort. It involves me designing the new design and then having artist Martin Du Mont draw it to scale and do the glass painting. Zandile and Thulani Maphosa do the cutting of the glass and lead up the windows. We’ll all get involved in the installation of the windows, so it truly is a team effort and I couldn’t do it without them,” comments stained glass artist and restorer, David Manning.
He explains that lead in a stained glass window lasts approximately 100 years, and then becomes brittle and starts oxidising. It’s typically at that point, that David and his team are called in to preserve and expertly restore the works of art.
“There is great value in restoring old windows in the Eastern Cape, because they truly are masterpieces. I see it as the role of my team and myself, to get involved in the preservation of these stained glass windows so that we have something to hand over to the next generation.”
With passionate people like David Manning and his team, it’s clear that the future of his unique career is in good hands!
Q&A WITH DAVID
What does ‘living better’ mean to you? / How are you aspiring to live better?
Through my stained glass, I try to leave something of lasting beauty. We also restore old stained glass windows for churches, as lead oxidizes and becomes brittle at around 100 years. The stained glass has to be carefully removed, taken apart and re-leaded with new lead and weather proofed with cement putty. The Eastern Cape has a priceless heritage of stained glass made over a hundred years ago by the best Studios in the world. Studios like James Powell & Sons, Morris & Co, as well Heaton, Butler and Bayne. They employed famous artists like Sir Edward Burnie-Jones, and Henry Holiday all who had paintings in galleries like the Tate.
All the stained glass windows in the Eastern Cape are made using mouth blown glass, an art form in itself. The art of stained glass has been around for over 800 years. The craft has changed little over this period. The studios who made these priceless windows are no longer in business so it is our privilege to restore them and preserve them for future generations.
We have lost so much due to COVID. It is important to ask, what do we have? What do we build? What examples of great art, music etc do we leave for the next generation? I.e works of people creating at their best. We have to ask ourselves, what do we give? Surely profit cannot be the sole motivation for our existence.
What legacy would you like to leave behind?
“I would love to know that I have in some small way added to the continuation of a 800 year old craft. We have spent 40 years restoring and creating awareness of stained glass in churches and schools in the Eastern Cape. Schools like St Andrew’s, Dsg and Kingswood College. We have photographed, identified and documented the makers of the stained glass. Notably the stained glass in the Grahamstown Cathedral and surrounding churches. We have also documented the stained glass in Port Elizabeth covering all the denominations, the St Mary’s Cathedral, St Augustin and surrounding churches.”
What 2 valuable lessons / pieces of advice would you like to share with South Africa?
“The priceless stained glass windows were made by a team of artists, designers and craftsmen. It takes work, time and effort to achieve this level of skill. Sadly today we want a quick buck and do not want to put in the time and dedication. I strongly believe that a qualification should only be the start of your learning and perfecting one’s art or skill. We need to value experience more.”
Where do you go to escape and connect with yourself?
“I read a lot. My favorite escape is to run or cycle in nature. Meditation l find is a great escape when the world goes a bit crazy.”
Do you have an encouraging quote to close on?
“Lets be less concerned about what others are doing wrong and more concerned about what I am doing. We are in this together so let us add more hope or light. We cannot go back and change what’s happened in the past but be a light in the present. By sharing our light with others we may see our future more clearly. Maybe realising only by sharing our light will we build a better future.”
Are there any last thoughts you’d like to add?
“A stained glass window is only beautiful by the use of all the different colours and they are illuminated by one light.”