I first used Lambert’s Glass in the spring of 1975 for a window that I was designing for the artist Dave Peterson. It was to be situated in an aperture in a mediaeval stone wall between his kitchen and living room. I was using spectacle lenses, staining them and setting them in lead glazing.
As a student in the Architectural Glass Department in Swansea Art College. I had heard of the qualities of opal glass made in Germany and decided that was exactly what I needed: to juxtapose the magnification of the lenses; to partly obscure the view through; to make the most of the low natural light available; to allow the Peterson kids to play with peering through the magnified lenses; but only glimpse an intimation of the total view.
I set off to drive to Germany with my then boyfriend, as far as Hilden, to purchase glass from Becker’s. Having crammed a crash O-level course in German, I was slightly disappointed that everyone at Becker’s spoke excellent English. The range of luminous opal and opak glass available did not disappoint, it enthralled me. I was fascinated by ‘milch und wasser’,the glass that looks like swathes of milk floating on water. The window that I made with it was called ‘From Icarus to Alex’ which was dedicated to my hairdresser who died hang-gliding above Rhossilli beach. Eventually it was bought by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.
On the same trip I visited Ludwig Schaffrath in Alsdorf-Ofden. The following year I worked with him for six weeks and we became lifelong friends. He really taught me the value of Lambert’s glass. This knowledge, I would in turn, pass on to my assistants – giving them small samples of white opal and opaque glass and asking them to sort it, in a row against the glass easel, to differentiate the differing densities. At first, to their puzzlement, it all appeared the same, but gradually it became apparent, that each was subtly different.
In the early eighties, my Unilever Headquarters windows in London made good use of Lambert’s ‘opak’ glass, since they were internal and lit by a light well. Stained glass usually lives or dies by the quality of light it transmits. However opaque glass still holds its colour to some degree under surface light. Part of that scheme has recently been removed, but it lives on in Japan, in a private collection.
My Unilever commission was fabricated by the Derix Studio in Taunusstein, as were the 200 metres of glass for Royal Exchange Theatre two decades later.
Around the millennium, I worked with Peter’s Studio in Paderborn on the lower panels of my design for Sheffield Cathedral Lantern; they sandwiched two etched layers of Lambert’s glass to achieve my painterly watercolour design.
Subsequently, I used the same technique when Lambert’s asked me to design a window for their factory. I had a wonderful time drawing the teams making the glass, animated by the almost alchemical staged theatre: of pulling molten glass from the furnace on the punty; and blowing it into muffs. The window is testament to that glorious, energetic excitement.
Amber Hiscott, Artist