Winter light and stained glass

Jan 10, 2017 | Neil Sinden

Not many of us look forward to the long, dark nights of winter.  Natural light is increasingly understood to play an important role in our physical and mental wellbeing. It is not surprising that Seasonal Affective Disorder , sometimes known as ‘winter depression’, is closely related to the lack of light during this time of the year.

Living here at St George’s Farm, in the depths of the Wyre Forest, there is little pollution from artificial light.  This seems to have made us more sensitive to changing levels of natural light.  In the cloudy, gloom of drizzly and damp winter days – such as today – it is harder to escape from the  midwinter torpor that can feel overwhelming.

But there is another, more positive side to this.  When the sun does shine – and it seems to have done so most days this winter, at least for a short while – the quality of the light can be stunning.  This is especially the case at sunrise.  With the sun hanging so low in the sky, it barely rises above the top of the tree line but the angle of the light through the forest can create dramatic effects.    This is often enhanced by moisture held in the air causing atmospheric mists to cling to the ground, turning to magical hoar frost when it freezes. The darkness of the night recently has also created the most wonderful displays of starlight.


Of the course the quality of light has motivated artists for centuries.  The formation of artists colony in St Ives almost a century ago was driven by the crystal clarity of the air that is often found in that part of Cornwall.    Anne Wroe has recently written on this topic in her book Six Facets of Light.  She describes how artists such as Eric Ravilious and Samuel Palmer, more closely associated with Kent and Sussex, were drawn by and sought to capture the character of the light they found there.


Samuel Palmer, Early Morning (1825)

Stained glass is one artform that has a particular dependence on light.  We have written before in this blog about the glass work by Amber Hiscott – inspired by the quality of light in the forest clearing that surrounds St George’s Farm.  It has been a delight to discover the wonderful stained glass designs by Edward Burne-Jones, and produced by the company set up by William Morris, to be found locally.   Both figures were strongly influenced by John Ruskin.


All Saints Church at Wilden, with all of its glass by Burne-Jones – examples above – which was commissioned along with the building itself by Stanley Baldwin’s father Alfred, is particularly impressive.  St Leonard’s at Ribbesford also has a beautiful window – below – again by Morris and Burne-Jones.  More of their stained glass designs adorn the Cathedral Church of St Philip, and other churches in Birmingham where Burne Jones was born in 1833.  There are also a number of other examples of their work in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery that are well worth seeing.


Instead of lamenting the lack of natural light in winter, we should be grateful for the changing quality of light through the seasons.  As well as playing a vital role in the work of many of our most treasured artists, it connects us with the natural rhythms of the world we live in.