The 2019 Illumination Window at Durham Cathedral was the realisation of Mel Howse’s designs created in 2016. It was dedicated on 11th May 2019 by The Dean of Durham Andrew Tremlett.
The window is in memory of Sara Pilkington who was a university student at Durham, and the purpose of the art is ever more striking as it seeks to celebrate a young life cut short.
The designs were a response to a concentrated brief from Durham Cathedral which included papers on theology, architecture, spirituality, colour, and both present and future historical significance of the commissioned piece.
Mel's composition in glass contains no black. Its form is represented by light, not darkness. A structure of white runs throughout the intense colours. As such the art is a fitting symbol in memory of Sara Pilkington, a young and vibrant woman.
The expansion of the design into contemporary art glass took Mel two years, through a 26m2 colour cartoon, from which emerged 64 individual etched and enamelled glass plates continuing into shaped tracery lights. It is created in both applied and reverse-worked techniques that allow the very minimal use of lead. All of the glasswork is acid-etched and enamelled amongst many other hand-worked techniques.
Every stage of the process was a creative opportunity, working towards the design realisation.
Although very modern, the art speaks to its historic surroundings and its current purpose.
The semi-abstract nature of the composition, the repetitious shapes and the visual texture of the colours, creates a very natural fusion of ancient and contemporary design within the dynamic, hand-hewn texture of the architecture, famous for its vast vaulted ceiling and enormous patterned columns.
Durham Cathedral is a Unesco World Heritage Site receiving over 700,000 visitors a year.
During the progress of the commission Mel Howse asked architectural photographer Jim Stephenson to make a visual record of the journey of making and installing The Illumination window, filmed over the course of two years. You can click on the links to watch the three films.