William Wilson's scrap box

William Wilson's scrap box

At the Scottish Stained Glass Symposium meeting in Aberdeen last year, a lady came up to me and, in a conspirational tone, whispered that she had some boxes of scrap glass tucked away in her shed. The glass had belonged to William Wilson, and would I like it? I replied I would, of course, but in the bustle of the meeting we weren't able to do much more than exchange phone numbers before we all rushed off to view the fantastic Douglas Strachan windows in Kings College.

William Wilson RSA (1905–1972) was one of Scotland's finest artists. He started his glass career with James Ballantyne & Son, prior to which he worked as a map maker. He studied at Edinburgh College of Art, before opening his stained-glass studio in Edinburgh in 1937. During his career he produced over 300 windows, for churches, cathedrals and secular buildings all over Scotland.

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William Wilson Window, Kintore Parish Church, Aberdeenshire.

Twelve months on months, and Ruth Lough and her husband are sitting in my kitchen drinking coffee. They've driven out from Aberdeen with 4 boxes of William Wilson's scrap glass, and we're sat discussing our favourite Wilson windows. Turns out Ruth had studied stained glass under Wilson at Edinburgh College of Art in the early-50's, and gone on to work in the London studio of Francis Spear. On her return to Scotland, she carried out two church window commissions (including one for Craigsbank Church before giving up stained glass for painting and embroidery.

A few days later, and I'm unpacking the glass. There are 3 flat paper file boxes, approximately A4 size, and a wooden box about 20x20cm full of small (<5cm) scraps. Each of the files contains 10 or so layers of glass, carefully wrapped in newspaper, with some layers comprised of 3-4 pieces of glass, and others of full sheets. The glass is beautiful, mouthblown and some Hartley Wood glass - mostly blues, greens and purples, with some deep reds and streaky ambers.

Ruth mentioned there was a surprise for me in one of the boxes and I guessed I'd found it when I unwrapped a fragment of a hand-spun rondel. However, the very last layer of the very last box contained two small painted sections. One was a small etched ruby section, and the other a fragment of a painted face.

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Fragment of painted glass

To be on the receiving end of such a generous gift has made me realise what a wonderful community the glass world is - I just hope I can do the glass, and Ruth's faith in me, justice.