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Piotr Frac, Stained Glass Artist

September 26, 2021
by the gentle author

We are delighted that Bethnal Green stained glass artist Piotr Frac is featured in the newly opened exhibition LONDON MAKING NOW at the Museum of London

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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Hugh Wedderburn, Wood Carver

10 Responses leave one →
  1. Achim permalink
    September 26, 2021

    One of the most creative crafts in existence. I would love to look over Piotr Frac’s shoulder!

    Love & Peace

  2. Peter Hart permalink
    September 26, 2021

    Wonderful piece. Love the colours of stained glass and of course Piotr’s work. Thank you

  3. Walter Braun permalink
    September 26, 2021

    Very inspiring story, especially for immigrants – thanks a lot, Gentle!!!

  4. Annie S permalink
    September 26, 2021

    Beautiful work!
    I have booked my visit to the Museum – look forward to seeing his work and that of the other craftspeople.

  5. Kelly Holman permalink
    September 26, 2021

    Absolutely beautiful. The panel of the child looking in wonder at light and colour is very moving. As you say, we are lucky indeed that he decided to bring his talent and commitment here.

  6. Mary permalink
    September 26, 2021

    Thank you Piotr for coming to England and making your home here. Your work is truly amazing.
    I am very lucky that my house has stained glass windows, in the front door and large panels to the side. It is one of the reasons I bought the house and visitors always admire it. As you say it is fascinating how it alters with the changing light and I never tire of looking at it.
    As always, G.A. introduces us to some incredible craftsmen and artisans.

  7. Anita permalink
    September 26, 2021

    Lovely inspirational work .. Thankyou for been here in uk Piotr …I teach pottery in ACL centre but also dabbled in stained glass ..really loved it so much .. why did I stop doing ? You’ve made me think … best wishes with all your work and future .

  8. Barbara Hague permalink
    September 26, 2021

    I found this particularly interesting, as my father told me that around 1928 he started an apprenticeship in the east end, but it didn’t last long, as his parents couldn’t afford to pay to let him carry on with it. He really wanted to though. He later became a milkman, and then bus conductor and then bus driver. In between, of course, he signed up in the army when needed.

  9. September 27, 2021

    Many a time a beautiful stained glass window has stopped me in my tracks, so wonderful to know the skills continue, and are being shared with a younger generation

  10. Carolyn Hooper permalink
    October 27, 2021

    Congratulations, Piotr!! How superb that you have fought on to follow that dream! A rare man who has even found a lovely woman to share your story with….and she hers, with you.

    Thank-you, gentle author. Excellence, as usual.

    Love from The Land Down Under

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