Meet the woman keeping the Irish tradition of making stained glass alive

Bianca Divito continues the long-standing Irish tradition of making stained glass, writes Carol O’Callaghan

Meet the woman keeping the Irish tradition of making stained glass alive

Bianca Divito continues the long-standing Irish tradition of making stained glass, writes Carol O’Callaghan

THERE’S a longstanding tradition of glass making in this country, although we tend to associate it today with table top glass wares, and for ecclesiastical purposes where saints, angels and biblical scenes are immortalised in stained glass windows.

Now, thanks to the likes of glass artist Bianca Divito, stained glass is developing as a contemporary art form.

Trained in architectural glass at The Swansea Metropolitan University, Bianca won the coveted Award of Excellence granted annually to a graduate of the course by the Worshipful Company of Glaziers and Painters of Glass in London. This offered her a 40-week training programme to work in some of the top architectural art glass and stained glass conservation studios in the UK and Europe.

“My time there opened doors for me,” she says. “After that I worked on the restoration and conservation of medieval windows in Canterbury Cathedral.”

It wasn’t long before she was invited to work in Dublin’s St Patrick’s Cathedral to help restore and conserve the windows in the Lady Chapel, which date from the late 1800s.

Both were prestigious projects for the then emerging artist, but all the while she was developing her contemporary private and public commissions.

“These can be anything from an exterior window to an entrance or porch, designed in a way that considers the light and the client’s taste,” she explains. “Sometimes they’re a retro fit, but other times an architect can get me in when the construction of a project is finished.”

Her finished installations include floor to ceiling exterior windows in a double height room, to works embedded in a partition wall. For something so personal and unique, the good news is a window design can be made as an autonomous panel which the client can take with them if they move.

Responding to the client’s brief for an abstract front door panel, Bianca adopted a painterly approach using the geometric pattern from the foyer wallpaper as inspiration, and to create continuity between the glass and the interior.
Responding to the client’s brief for an abstract front door panel, Bianca adopted a painterly approach using the geometric pattern from the foyer wallpaper as inspiration, and to create continuity between the glass and the interior.

But what’s the cost implication for something which is meticulously skilled and time consuming in the making? “As a guide for a leaded glass work, painted, you’re looking upwards from €150 per square foot,” Bianca explains.

At the much lower price of €75, her range of hanging pendants for windows are made using the Tiffany copper foiling technique developed in the 1900s. It has a refinement and delicacy not seen in the square lead we know from church windows, so think of the metal element of a Tiffany lampshade and you get the picture.

So while all of these skills were developing and commissions coming in for things like a modern window scheme for the Guest Palace in Oman, and from the Per Cent for Art scheme which funds public art in Ireland in state funded major construction projects, it was a chance meeting that took her work and life in new directions.

“I was introduced to a landscape gardener, Damien Keane. It was love at first sight,” she confesses.

This led them to work together at Chelsea Flower Show in 2012, where they made a mini garden in the Fresh Garden area, designed around glass. It won them a certificate of merit for outstanding presentation and spurred them on to continue working together.

Now married and living in Gorey, Co Wexford, for the last five years, they’ve made home of a 1938 schoolhouse which they share with toddler daughter Ruby.

Continuing to collaborate on projects, while Bianca also works on private commissions, the big one for now is developing the property around their home with the aim of advancing the learning of contemporary glass art.

Bianca Divito’s hanging window pendants use Austrian crystals and are made using the Tiffany copper foiling technique which was developed in the 1900s (€75 each at biancadivito.com).
Bianca Divito’s hanging window pendants use Austrian crystals and are made using the Tiffany copper foiling technique which was developed in the 1900s (€75 each at biancadivito.com).

“In a way we’re taking it back to what it was — a school,” Bianca reveals. “We’re creating a centre of excellence where people can come and train. At the moment we’re putting in accommodation for people attending courses, and we’re putting in a gallery.”

Amid this buzz of development, the awards and accolades continue to come in. In 2016, Bianca was presented with the Sculpture in Context award for Blowing My Worries Away, a self-portrait in glass at The National Botanic Gardens.

And it all started with her parents Iris and Joe Divito taking time out of a busy working life to do a stained glass window course, and in turn encouraging their daughter to follow her own dream.

“Dad helps me whenever I need his expertise and my mother works happily everyday creating jewellery and hanging features for the retail market. They’re very encouraging and wonderful parents.

      • For information on courses and commissions, log onto www.biancadivito.com.

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