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Piotr Frac, Stained Glass Artist

July 7, 2019
by the gentle author

Happy in the crypt beneath John Soane’s St John on Bethnal Green of 1828, Piotr Frac works peacefully making beautiful stained glass while the world passes by at this busiest of East End crossroads. Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & I visited Piotr in his subterranean workshop and were delighted to observe his dexterity in action and admire some of his recent creations.

Piotr’s appealingly modest demeanour and soft spoken manner belie the moral courage and determination it has cost him to succeed in this rare occupation. This is to say nothing of his extraordinary skill in the cutting of glass and the melding of lead to fashion such accomplished work, or his creative talent in contriving designs that draw upon the age-old traditions of stained glass but are unmistakably of our own time.

Gripped by a passion for the magic of stained glass at an early age, Piotr always knew this what what he had to do. Yet even to begin to make his way in his chosen profession, Piotr had to leave his home country and find a whole new life, speaking another language in another country.

It is our gain that Piotr brought his talent and capacity for work to London. That he found his spiritual home in the East End is no accident, since he follows in the footsteps of centuries of skilled migrants, starting with the Huguenots in the sixteenth century, who have immeasurably enriched our culture with their creative energies.

“I am from a working class family in Byton, Silesia, in the south of Poland. My interest in stained glass began when I was ten or eleven years old and I went with my school to see Krakow Cathedral. The stained glass was something beautiful and that was the first time in my life I saw it. I was inspired by the colours and the light, it still excites me.

I always had an interest in drawing and painting – so, after high school, I went to a school of sculpture where they taught stained glass restoration. This was more than twenty years ago, but it was the start of my journey with stained glass. After I got my diploma in the restoration of stained glass, I worked on a project at a church for a few weeks before university. I studied art education in Silesia and I learnt painting, sculpture and calligraphy. I believe every artist needs a background in drawing and painting.

My ambition was to do stained glass, but there were hardly any jobs of any kind – I sold fish in the market in winter and I worked in a hospital, I took whatever I could get. Around 2005, I decided to leave the country. I had some Polish friends who had come to London and they helped me find a place to stay in Brixton. In the beginning, it was very difficult for me because of the language barrier. Without English, it was hard for me to communicate and find a job here. I worked on building sites. Every morning I got up at five and I walked around with this piece of paper which told me how to ask for a job. Someone wrote down a phonetic version of the words for me and I asked at building sites. After two weeks, I got a labouring job.

I lived in many places south of the river but seven years ago I moved to East London and I have stayed here ever since. At first I lived in the Hackney Rd near Victoria Park and I am still in that area, close the Roman Rd. I visited stained glass workshops but I could not get a job because I could not communicate. I did not want to work as a labourer forever so I decided to go to language school to learn English and this helped me a lot. At the English school here in the crypt of St John’s Bethnal Green, my teacher asked us to prepare a talk about myself and my interests. So I talked about my profession as a stained glass artist and my teacher introduced me to a stone carver in the crypt workshop. He told me, ‘If you are willing to teach stained glass classes, you are welcome to use the workshop.’ I started eight years ago with one student.

My first commission was to repair a Victorian glass door. Most of my work has been Victorian and Edwardian windows and doors, which has allowed me to survive because there are plenty that need repair or replacement. There are not a lot of creative commissions on offer but sometimes people want something different.

Two years ago, I won a competition to design a window for St John’s Hackney. It took a year for them to approve the design and I am in the middle of working on it now. I need to finish and install it. Also the Museum of London bought a piece of mine. It is gorilla from a triptych of gorillas and it will be displayed there next year.

Once I moved to East London, I felt I belonged to here – not only because I started my workshop but because I met my wife, Akiko, here. In 2016, I become a British citizen so now I am a permanent member of the community.

Stained glass is a wonderful medium to work with and always looks fantastic because it changes all the time with the light, in different times of the day and seasons of the year. I believe there is a great potential for stained glass in modern architecture.

These days I am able to make a living and I would like to become more recognised as a stained glass artist. I am seeking more ambitious commissions.”

Constructing a nineteenth century door panel

A panel from Piotr’s triptych of gorillas

Piotr’s first panel designed and made in London

Piotr with one of his stained glass classes in the crypt of St John’s Bethnal Green

Repairing a Victorian glass door

Restoring nineteenth century church glass

Before repair

After repair

Piotr Frac, Stained Glass Artist

Studio portraits © Sarah Ainslie

Contact Piotr Frac direct to commission stained glass

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18 Responses leave one →
  1. Lesley permalink
    July 7, 2019

    So lovely to see your work. What a treasure you are. Luckily children.

  2. Jill Wilson permalink
    July 7, 2019

    Great to see such a skilled craftsman able to practice his art – and able to add a modern twist to his own designs (I love the gorillas!)

    There has been a lot of restoration work done to the hall where I sometimes work including a lot of the Victorian stained glass being repaired and replaced, and it is wonderful to see the sunlight steaming through the coloured glass.

    It also made me appreciate just what a skilled job it is, so keep up the good work Poitr!

  3. July 7, 2019

    Great story. Welcome!

  4. mlaiuppa permalink
    July 7, 2019

    You timing is impeccable.

    I just spent the day looking at designs and visualizing two windows for my house, the front door and a side window.

    I’m not artist like Piotr so my windows will be much simpler. But then, my house is simpler too. I took a class decades ago and have only made three windows and a panel. But I still have my tools and I still remember. I had planned to do them when I moved into my house 30 years ago but time just slipped by. A few days ago I decided to do some mosaic stepping stones for the front to solve a pathway problem and from there it led to why not finally do the windows. So yesterday and today I’ve been looking at glass, supplies and designs.

    And here you are with this post.

    If I were there or Piotr was here, I’d commission him. His work is just fabulous and I am sure he would do a much better job than I. I’m also sure that his design would capture exactly what I am looking for. He is a true artist. His restoration of that 19th century church class is amazing. You can’t even tell where the repairs are. I had to look back and forth between the two photos. without the before I would have never been able to tell there was any repair at all.

    I think the thing I find most ironic is his workshop is in a basement. Basements are known for having very little natural light and if they have any windows at all, they are quite small. Yet he builds stained glass windows that come alive when the natural light shines through them.

    His first window designed and made in London is absolutely gorgeous. It shows how modern and contemporary traditional stained glass techniques can be.

  5. July 7, 2019

    What a contrast to yesterday’s blog about the wanton destruction of beautiful buildings that could have been lovingly restored.
    This is such an uplifting and inspiring story ….and even more so because Piotr is passing on the skills he has acquired to the next generation. Wonderful work Piotr.

  6. Claire permalink
    July 7, 2019

    It is a beautiful art form; it is extraordinary I think in the way it interacts with inside and outside and daylight above all. How wonderful for us that Poitr chose to come here with his skills and settle.
    Thank you and best wishes.

  7. Nina Archer permalink
    July 7, 2019

    A clever and inspiring man

  8. Helen Breen permalink
    July 7, 2019

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, what a great story about Piotr Frac and his journey establishing his career as a stained glass artist in East London following the artistic tradition of “the Huguenots in the sixteenth century, who have immeasurably enriched our culture with their creative energies.”

    I loved that pic of his stained glass class in the crypt of St. John’s Bethnal Green. The students looked so engaged. No doubt, their designs will also give them a great grounding in geometry too!

  9. Heather Dyer permalink
    July 7, 2019

    This is so uplifting to read and also very inspiring in such dark and depressing times

  10. July 7, 2019

    Optimism, personified! I loved being introduced to this master of stained glass, and (seemingly!) an inveterate teacher. Sarah Ainslie’s portraits of people-at-work are always very special, which adds to the banquet. It makes me so happy to see a gifted artist earning his living — plus the circle of happiness is widened each time someone observes his skilled workmanship.

    GA, thank you for the optimism today!
    (If only we could “import” Mr. Frac here to the Hudson Valley in New York. We have some beautiful historic stained glass windows in our local church, badly in need of restoration.)

  11. Gregg permalink
    July 7, 2019

    Super article uncovering yet another secret in London.

  12. Bernie permalink
    July 7, 2019

    Lovely to see the artistry. I would also love to see more of the church above! Sir John Soane was an exemplary individual. His museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields is well wortth a visit.

  13. Laura Williamson permalink
    July 7, 2019

    I think stained glass can be a very underappreciated medium. Piotr’s work is wonderful and so good to see him teaching-they look like they are having a marvellous time.

  14. Marcia Howard permalink
    July 8, 2019

    What strength of character, and dedication to succeed. We are privileged to have such talent here, such as this young man has.

  15. July 8, 2019

    Wonderful creations in stained glass technique. I admire it!

    Love & Peace

  16. Richard permalink
    July 9, 2019

    Amazing gorilla. Piotr you look English!

  17. July 9, 2019

    Thank you for publishing the story of someone so talented & possessing such determination. His work is beautiful.

  18. B. Elfant permalink
    July 21, 2019

    Wonderful story of determination and passion for a craft. Thank you for posting.

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