Neil Hanscomb

Stained Glass Artist


Published, EAC Communiqué, September 1993


n teaching himself the ancient art of stained glass, Neil Hanscomb demonstrated his conviction that you can accomplish what you wish with perseverance and application: “I believe you should take your dreams and make them reality,” he says, “Radio and television fill the ears and eyes with aggressive energy. I choose to work in stained glass because I want my contribution to be meditative.”

Since 1983, Neil’s work has explored many types of glass and he is developing a vocabulary of abstract forms, which represent human as well as physical elements and even emotions in his designs. “I figure it takes 20 years to make an artist, and I’ve done 10, but I’ve put in lots of hours!”

Architectural decoration through stained glass techniques developed in Romanesque times and expanded from use in small clerestory windows to large translucent areas of colour in the Gothic cathedrals of the early 13th century. Because only small pieces of  coloured glass were available in medieval times, craftsmen joined them with lead to produce meaningful designs. Today as then, stained glass diffuses the quality of ordinary daylight through warm and vibrant colour, lending it poetic and spiritual values.

Most large works in stained glass are commissioned for homes or buildings, such as the 175-square-foot panel “Neufaktor” which Neil executed for the MacNaughton Building’s 25th anniversary at the University of Guelph in 1989. Frequently his commissions are for windows which are conceived not only around a subject matter but also to complement the particular space a window will occupy and the spirit of the people who will receive it visually and aesthetically. An element such as a tree outside or a special view may become a part of the composition.

Other striking works seen at the Hanscomb Glass Studio on Church Street, Elora, are unique autonomous stained glass medallions. These are portable pieces of varying sizes, made to be suspended and interact with space. The medallions are
intuitively assembled without preconceived design using flash glass of varying thickness, glass etching and decorative lead lines. “I would like to combine these medallions in architectural format with welded brass. I’m learning to weld now to explore this conception.”

Born in Leicester, England, Neil Hanscomb came to Canada when three years old and the adventurous children’s literature of England continued to shape him in British traditions throughout his childhood. At the crucial age between public school and high school he experienced the upheaval of his mother’s marital change, and displacements of home and neighbourhoods. “I was always the new kid on the block; my drawing pads and guitar kept me company.” Eventually he went back to Bristol, England, to live with his grandparents, take his O Level exams, and travel in Germany writing poetry and songs.

Returning to Canada, he apprenticed to fine woodworking craftsmen in Calgary for several years. On a leave of absence Neil came east to visit his mother in Fergus and liked the area. He chose Elora for his first studio.

“There’s an energy in Elora. It’s a creative melting pot, broad and eclectically interesting”. He appreciates the autonomy of self-employed, and lives above his studio, close to his wife Gisela and their two children now one and one-half and three years old. Gisela has an artist’s tastes and knows the techniques and disciplines of stained glass. “I can’t do without her support” Neil says. His reclusive role as an artist needs the stability, affection and involvement of family life.

 His reclusive role as an artist needs the stability, affection and involvement of family life.

A major influence on Neil’s approach to design came through a workshop at Banff in 1987 with contemporary German master Johannes Schreiter, a dominant figure in the innovative German approach to stained glass over the last 40 years. Schreiter’s use of analogy, of large spaces against concentrated forms and of expressive, non-functional lead lines has opened for Neil a powerful range of visual and lyric expression in glass.

With the heritage of old stained glass in our public buildings and churches, restoration is another aspect of work for the trained artisan. Even the leading of a good craftsman needs reworking after a hundred years. Neil has studied all the components of traditional windows and thinks stiff rules should be introduced regarding the preservation of this valuable legacy from the past. Working with a team, he has completed major restoration on two large churches and a chapel, renewing wood of frames and supports as well as ensuring the continued life of the intricately formed windows.

Recently Handscomb Glass Studio received a commission to design windows for the new addition to St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Fergus. Designs for these windows are presently awaiting approval. Neil has presented this design as part of a total concept of the extension which has 12 windows. His vision is to present the extraordinary qualities of mouth-blown glass in a context: cold colours against warm, large open spaces contrasted with areas of tension, giving unity to the inner space. The design would seek to evoke a feeling of awe corresponding to the congregation’s perception and inner sense of God. He hopes to convince the sessions to let the design reflect the spirituality of the younger generation, “Congregations of today are dealing with computers and multi-national companies, their thinking is increasingly abstracted and should not be restricted by old iconography.”

by Beverley Cairns, September 1993


 His vision is to present the extraordinary qualities of mouth-blown glass in a context: cold colours against warm, large open spaces contrasted with areas of tension, giving unity to the inner space.

UPDATE – 1997

Neil Hanscomb says his work is definitely on the course to minimalism. Less colour. Less, but greatly focused ornamentation. More rest. Less tension… time and an invitation to reflect. Searching for a confirmation of the existence of we, us, you in an I, me, world.

In January ‘95. the shop closed to the public to launch a product line of environmentally friendly recycled glassware, selling across the country, giving Hanscomb Glass Studio a viable base and allowing Neil to be selective about the marketing of artwork.

A major commission came in ‘95 – ’96 with the design and execution of leaded glass windows for the chapel of St. John’s Lutheran Church, Waterloo – the second largest Lutheran Church in Canada.

At the recommendation of friends and associates, Neil is exploring the potential of working with artists in other disciplines. Mixing media holds a great deal of excitement for him, expanding the potential of glass. The studio is currently in dialogue with three ecclesiastical clients for contemporary artwork designs with the additions of brass, steel, castables etc. to the eternal beauty of glass.

UPDATE -2005

Neil and his partner in life and art, Gisela Ruehe have travelled extensively with their two daughters over the last five years. Nine months of the year are spent in intense studio time, working to fulfil commissions and produce work for three main shows, the Fergus-Elora Studio Tour, The Fair November Craft Show, Guelph, and the One Of A Kind Christmas art and craft show in Toronto. Their imaginative storefront at 40 Church Street, Elora, is the ongoing display centre for Hanscomb Glass.

For four years, Neil Hanscomb has worked exclusively in glass with no colour. In 2005, white and bronze glass are slowly being introduced into his work. One of his signature techniques is the inclusion of thick “rough cast” glass ornaments and expressive wire overlays. The overlays are frequently extensions of the expanded lead lines of varying widths.

The beauty and originality of Neil’s creations can be viewed at the website www.