St. Mary and baby Jesus created by glass artist Nathalie Leige
By Stephanie Barnard
BBC Sheffield & South Yorkshire
When you look into a window, the last thing you expect to see is your own face. Members of a congregation in Grimethorpe have been immortalised in new windows at St. Luke's Church.
These are not the traditional stained glass windows made with lead which many of us will be familiar with; these windows use ground-breaking new methods in glass.
The two windows are facing the main road through Grimethorpe, St Luke's Road. The windows are opposite a rather more traditional window that we know of, of St. George. These two newly installed windows feature members of the community in Grimethorpe. Mary & Jesus who are moulded into the glass are actually Sarah and Lee Crawshaw from Grimethorpe, mother and son.
Father Peter Needham with his two dogs, Mary, left and Joseph
The project was instigated by Father Peter Needham who has worked tirelessly over the past eight years to help re-build and develop the community. The area suffered greatly in 1993 when the three core industries diminished - the closure of the pit, coking plant and power station. The area deteriorated and the church was threatened with demolition in 2001, but St. Luke's was saved by the community and is now a core part of Grimethorpe.
The glass window project has evolved over eight years. It received £36,000 of Arts Council funding and Father Peter spent three years trying to raise the additional funds to complete the project. Thanks to the local community, including the two local schools Milefield and Willowgarth, the church raised the £10,000 it required for the project's completion.
Glass artist Nathalie Liege won the commission to work with the community to develop the windows which features Mary & Joseph.
The windows not only feature Mary and baby Jesus but other members of the public. Artist Nathalie Liege decided that the eyes of the people from the community would not feature in the windows but concentrate on their mouth and hands, so not to detract from the images. Father Peter Needham explains why the work was commissioned;
"We already had images of St George and of the Lord but no imagery of St Luke or Mary who are obviously major parts of the church. So Natalie was given the task to reflect those."
"It is all do with light. When the light changes, the picture alters too. The photos and imagery of the people in the windows are from the community. The glass artwork represents the church, the community, humanity."
Members of St Luke's congregation were photographed by Nathalie in a variety of different poses in 2003. A selection of photos were reproduced in a mould and then sent away to be coloured. The process involved using coloured transfers infused into the glass to give the final photograph colour. Artist Nathalie Leige described her difficulties with the project: "This was a challenge from A to Z. It has been difficult to find the craftsmen to help me complete the job and the different techniques I wanted to use."
Many church windows have traditional lead frames and brightly coloured religious figures but these windows are very much a break in tradition. So, how has the community responded to a touch of modern being brought into a church which has stood in Grimethorpe since 1904.
"Many people have left comments in the church saying that they weren't sure if they liked the window when they first saw them," says Nathalie "Now, people have said that they find something that they love about the window. That is the challenge of modern art, in the sense of doing something different that has been seen before. I haven't used lead and it gives the whole window and frame a very different structure."
Sarah Crawshaw with her son Lee, posing for a photo in 2003
Father Peter hopes the windows' use of religious icons makes people look at them differently: "You don't look at these windows, you look into them. And as you look through the glass, the light changes so it looks different every time, it's just wonderful."
Audrey Bailey is 77-years-old. Her hands and mouth feature in two of the windows and she says she is honoured: "I'm thrilled. It is something that will always be there, even when I'm not. My children and grandchildren will always know that was their nana."
Some people in South Yorkshire may think the £47,000 used to create the windows was a waste of money, but to this Father Peter asks,
"How do you value art? We could have raised the £10,000 to pay the gas bill - but people won't give money to the church to pay its gas bill, they're not interested. But they may be interested in looking at art. People will look at this and see the amount of effort and energy that has gone into this and see just how beautiful it is. How do you pay for quality of life? Oh, and we have to pay our gas bill as well!"
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