Heart of glass
David Clensy meets the stained glass artist who is making her mark with a colourful new exhibition
WHEN it comes to visiting churches, Kat Orton doesn't think of herself as being particularly religious – the hymns and the prayers never did that much for her, but there was one element of church architecture that has kept her transfixed for as long as she can remember.
Stained glass artist Kat, from Bedminster, has always had a fascination with the complex leaded windows, with their stained glass stories and their iconic imagery.
It's been an enduring love, but over the last couple of years stained glass has taken over the 30-year-old's life.
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"I was working as a copywriter, commuting into Bath each day, but I was beginning to grow tired of office life," she says. "I was keen to do something a bit more creative, and when I heard about a taster course in stained glasswork, I decided to sign up and give it a try.
"I'd always enjoyed drawing and painting – I was always artistically inclined, but I wasn't that good at it. Then I tried this and fell in love with it – suddenly I'd found a medium that fitted me perfectly."
Kat took her taster course at the Creative Glass Guild – which was then located close to her Bedminster home, but has recently moved to a larger warehouse unit in St Philip's.
As well as offering courses in stained glasswork, the centre is a shop where stained glass hobbyists can pick up everything they need to make things of beauty, as well as being home to a specialist workshop where professionals work on restoration projects and commissions.
For Kat it was a life-changing moment.
"I enjoyed the taster course so much, I immediately signed-up to a 13-week training course, and shortly after I was offered a part time job here working in the shop.
"It's lovely working in a place where everyone who comes through the door has a shared interest in stained glass – there are plenty of people each day that I can chat with and be a bit of a stained glass geek."
After just two years working with stained glass, Kat's progress has been so impressive, she has been offered her own exhibition in the upstairs space at the guild.
"It's all stuff I've been working on over the last few months," she explains.
"There is quite a nautical theme running throughout – with pieces depicting everything from tall ships to an octopus, but I think that's just something that filters in from living here in Bristol among the city's maritime heritage."
But there is also a theme of nature running through the pieces – with ravens, foxes and stags all depicted in the work.
"I think there is also a sense of tattoo art coming through the work too," Kat says.
"Skulls keep cropping up in the corners of my pieces, and there is something tattoo-like about my depiction of ships and nautical themes."
Kat's work is far from being straightforward stained glass work – it also incorporates elements of glass painting and sand blast etching as well as more traditional leaded stained glass.
"Putting the pieces together with the lead is the final piece of the jigsaw," Kat explains."You tend to spend much more time preparing and cutting the glass, painting and sand-blasting designs, and kiln-firing the glass to set the paintwork.
"But it's always lovely when you get the piece together at the end of the process and see your ideas take shape."
You can visit Kat's exhibition at the Creative Glass Guild, Unit 4, St Phillips Central industrial estate, Albert Rd. Open every day. Admission free. For details, visit www.creativeglassguild.com