STAINED glass windows at one of the country's most visited churches are being brought down to Earth thanks to the work of a North East company.
Wooler-based IWF has built an “orb” which is being used to display stained glass windows that are being restored at York Minster.
The orb, which is 10 metres wide and three metres tall, is displaying five newly-conserved stained glass panels from York Minster’s medieval Great East Window.
The restoration of the Great East Window is scheduled for completion by summer 2016, and The Orb will remain in place until the window is unveiled. It allows visitors a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the restored panels up close during the course of the project.
Funded with £10.5m from the Heritage Lottery Fund, it is the largest conservation project of its kind in the UK.
Neil Wilton, managing director of IWF, designed and developed the framework to support and display stained glass.
Each month a newly-restored panel will be displayed in the central position, to complement the outer four panels.
This posed an additional challenge because the stained glass panels are of different sizes, so Mr Wilton had to design a system that would be visually exciting while still being able to work within the framework of the orb.
“We have been privileged to have made systems for almost the whole of the Victoria and Albert Museum stained glass display and for many UK museums, and even a few luxury homes,” he said.
“However, the York Minster Orb is the single most prestigious piece of work to date and one of the most challenging.”
Mr Wilton began working with stained glass over 30 years ago, but soon realised that much of the artform was no longer on display after the original buildings had been altered or destroyed.
He originally made and sold stained glass craft tools and materials to museums and glass workers, who were often looking for better ways to conserve and display their glass collections.
Traditional wooden frames are bad for the conservation of lead and can intrude on the integrity of the original design.
A number of museums began to ask him about ways to display – and transport and store – their stained glass collections, so Mr Wilton developed and manufactured a structure that would cradle and light up stained glass panels and windows. Mr Wilton has been working with the conservators at the V&A Museum in London since the 1980s.
It was the museum’s experts who recommended IWF to York Glaziers Trust when it was looking for advice on conserving and displaying the Minster’s historic stained glass.