St Michael and All Angels
St Michael and All Angels
The Parish Church of South Yardley Birmingham B26 1AP

Clerestory Window Panels

In 2002, Rachel Wroe Sawko wrote:

S.Michael & All Angels Parish Church ~ Clerestory Panels ~


"It all started early in 1998. The flat roof of S.Michael’s leaked and had to be raised. Linton Harrison, the Architect was asked to design a new roof; his plans included an intriguing slope producing an attractive high clerestory to stretch the length of the South Wall (ecclesiastical East!), above the Sanctuary. The glazing by itself let too much light in. The solution would be in filtering the light in some way, maybe through painted panels, which was the moment Fr.Clifton contacted me.


Later that same year I came to South Yardley to meet Fr.Clifton and one of the Church Wardens, Don Wyatt, to discuss their ideas. They wanted a movement of colour across and for me to produce a design including representations of Angels, Apostles and the Holy Spirit. For this I read the Revelation to John the Divine 7:2 and 22:1-2, the accounts of the Annunciation and also studied information on emblems associated with the holy Apostles. All this was followed by research into the practicalities of constructing a fibre-glass screen and finding a medium which would prove to be light and durable, as well as colour-fast and effective.


At first I contacted most of the Bristol Boat Builders for information on paint and fibreglass and eventually found help through Matrix Mouldings (famous for their work with Wallace and Grommit) and they suggested John Mann of Bad Dog Design. He had a great deal of the right experience and gave me advice and provided good work space on his premises later on. John also made a very large light box so that I could lay the panels flat and see what I was doing and he obtained the pigments and resin, made the panels, cut to size, from Matrix Mouldings.


In 1999 I did a trial panel, a research and development experiment, to get the feel of the pigment/resin mixture on the unstained sheet of fibreglass. This medium and method is rarely used for artwork and entirely new to me. As it felt like painting with Jam or Marmalade, I soon found it either too runny, therefore difficult to control, or I was alarmed to find it setting solid, because of the catalysing agent. Consequently, I had to work very fast whatever it did.


Work on the actual panels had to wait until November 1999, when John Mann could find space at Bad Dog Design for me. It took until August 2000 to get a satisfactory image by a build-up of washes on the panels. Fr Clifton came to Bristol on August 25th with Don and Brenda Wyatt to see some of the completed panels, suspended three at a time in the garden on heavy duty cable and against a bright summer sky. Colour tones which looked rich enough over the light box seemed much paler in sunlight, and I was confident that the density could and should be increased.


Unfortunately on my way back to the studio barn, one of John’s dogs with poor sight ran into me and this resulted in my being taken to Frenchay Hospital with a fractured ankle and torn ligaments. So work ground to a dramatic halt for another year as strength returning to my ankle was a slow process and also the weather had become too cold for the ambient temperature of 12c to return with the arrival of Autumn. During my convalescence John found time to develop further a way of making the pigment/resin mixture more workable in terms of colour and consistency. Also he made a second lighting box for completed panels to rest upon and to “cure”. From this time on John’s assistant Luan was also able to help me; himself an extremely accomplished artist. The next process was to marry up each panel with its neighbours in colour and tone. Much to everyone’s relief the panels harmonised and were completed in Summer 2001.


Until now I have worked on paintings no larger than 4' x 5'. The clerestory should teach me not to go as large again ~ but I might be tempted. I am a painter after all, but after some years I did an HVC Course in Stained Glass at Bristol, where I now live. Through the initiative of the tutor, Mark Angus, writing to the Church Times to stimulate interest in glass work, I was commissioned to design a narrow 8' window for a London church. Later I made a “loaves and fishes” window for a chapel in the Orkneys. My main enthusiasm is for the design and all the research that each piece of work demands to reach the appropriate concept.


It is important to acknowledge that in my prayers I have received a lot of help thanks to S.Luke, and never more so than when painting the S.Michael’s clerestory. It is mainly the sacred theme, major Feasts of the Church Year which fill my imagination."

Rachel Sawko