Gilroy Stained Glass uses ancient techniques to modern Vancouver

South Vancouver company uses ancient techniques for glass work.

Afternoon light streams through one of Gilroy's glass pieces.
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Reported by Gina Rogers

A South Vancouver company is on the cutting edge of modernizing a timeless medium that has been practiced and admired for centuries.

Laura and John Gilroy, owners of their company called Gilroy Stained Glass, located on Barnard Street in South Vancouver, still use ancient techniques dating back centuries.

Eschewing modern computer technology and doing everything by hand allows the glass to react to light streaming through it in a unique and authentic way, according to Laura.

“Your style is what you introduce into the painting,” John said.

They have been pushing the limits of the form through their residential, church and restoration projects.

The Gilroys said they manage to do this while preserving the traditions of construction, enabling their windows to be structurally sound in all weather conditions.

The couple studied together, training under long-renowned James Clark & Eaton, stained glass makers in London, with lineage tracing back to 1788.

They decided to move their family and business from England to Canada nearly 15 years ago, to focus on the highest end of their craft.

John said proximity to nature is, in part, what inspired them to move to Vancouver, and much of their commission work here expresses the nature that is found in B.C.

Their traditional methods might not be the quickest or easiest, but with these practices, Laura said they can cover a wide range of works, anywhere from “genesis and old testament” to Cuban themes.

They declined to discuss the cost of their work, but said that some of their works can take up to a year to complete. The cost and timing all depend on the size and complexity of the piece.

The glass they use comes from Europe, and their studio is one of the few on the West Coast that still uses historic materials throughout the process of cutting the glass and creating a window.

Gilroy Glass works with India ink, watercolour and pencil, tools that artists have worked with for millennia. Other local companies use computerized print-based methods, which Laura said “are nowhere near as effective.”

Their preferred lime chalk, used for drawing on sheets of glass, dates back about a thousand years.

The Gilroys said this is the most sustainable material today, due in part to water contamination issues with alternatives.

Local architect Walter Francl, certified in Leadership in Environmental Energy Design, believes in the possibility of stained glass being made “compatible with the thermal requirements of current building technologies as they are progressing.”

Laura said that in England they didn’t get to create many new designs. Many of the new work they did was for the state but in Vancouver they are able to create a new concept and design for an entire church.

“We can basically control how the art feels throughout the entire building and how it influences the congregation and how the light comes in,” she added.

Bigger projects that incorporate their whole vision is something that they get a lot more opportunity for in Vancouver, according to Laura.

Traditionally made, Gilroy Glass works are made to last hundreds of years.

“It’s all about the way the artwork makes you feel,” Laura said.

 

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Gilroy’s favourite Pieces

The Gilroys have worked on and created many works over the years, but the three pieces of works that have stood out to them over the course of their career here in Vancouver.

“Resurrection”

This nearly 300 sq. ft. piece took roughly one year to resurrect and fill the east window of St. John the Apostle Catholic Church in Kerrisdale, Vancouver. They also completed sets of aisle windows for the church. “What you’re looking for is someone to say ‘that’s a Gilroy Window’,” John said.

“Shaughnessy Entryway” 

Commission work for Gilroy Glass presents the artists with an exciting challenge. “It’s a literal and metaphorical puzzle,” Laura said. They are always designing, piece by piece, for each job. “Each piece that we do is entirely unique, influenced by the location, the size of the window, the light source,” she added.

“Your style is what you introduce into the painting so it can look very different from say Victorian or Medieval,” John said.

This particular Gilroy is a three-piece doorway, with three and a half sq. ft. pane in the center with two four to five sq. ft. side panels. It speaks to the longevity and honour in the Chinese culture of the client.

“Flower of life abstract”

When “what you’re really looking for is to keep on improving what you do,” John said. “No two days are the same.” The details in this piece, of seasonal constellations and symbolic flora and fauna, were created for exhibition with a mind to what the artists would put in their own home.

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