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AJ Naylor school photo

Tony Naylor - Stained Glass Artist

My Dad, Anthony John Naylor, known to his friends and work colleagues as Tony, was born in Yardley, Birmingham, in October 1940.  He was, by his own admission, an average student who disliked school – he attended Corpus Christi primary school in Yardley and Erdington Abbey Secondary Modern School. He left at the earliest opportunity which, in the 1950s, was at the age of 15 to start a six-year apprenticeship in commercial art at Siviter Smith: Artists, Designers and Engravers, in Birmingham.

Not long out of his apprenticeship, he handed in his notice. He had come to realise that the life of a commercial artist, sitting at a bench all day, was simply not for him. However, after a few months of doing casual work, he found himself back at the bench but this time at Cadbury’s, the chocolate manufacturers in Bournville.

Still keen to get away from the bench, he accepted a job at John Hardman Studios. Hardman Studios (founded in 1838 and closed in 2008) was one of the world’s leading manufacturers of stained glass and ecclesiastical fittings. It was famous for its collaboration with the architect and designer Augustus Welby Pugin who designed St Chad’s Cathedral in Birmingham.

 

Dad loved the job, working mainly in modern glass applications including slab glass (dalle de verre). This technique involves setting pieces of coloured glass in a matrix of concrete or epoxy resin.

Devastatingly there was a massive fire at Hardman Studios in 1970, damaging the whole building. Although nobody was injured in the fire, it obviously had an impact on everyone working there. The atmosphere changed and a year later he left for a four-year stint on the inspection track at Land Rover, Solihull, followed by four years at Horizon Midlands, a package holiday company, as an in-house finished artist producing artwork for holiday brochures. During these years his focus was mainly on establishing a stable home. He had married Janet (my Mom) in 1964 and by now they had three daughters – Rachel (me), Lia and Ester.

Dad started to wonder whether he could make a go of being self-employed, working in glass. He had learnt that a stained glass artist called Claude Price, who lived locally, had given a talk at St Edburgha’s Church in Yardley. One evening Dad went and knocked on his door and Claude, who was by then in his 70s, told Dad there was a gap in the market for someone doing glass repairs and restoration.

AJ Naylor at Hardman Studios working with slab glass
AJ Naylor soldering a window
AJ Naylor and daughters

He began doing small jobs for Claude, in evenings after work and at weekends, while Claude taught him the stained glass trade. It wasn’t as easy as he had thought, but he soon found he was getting into it and enjoying it.

 

In 1979, Dad took a leap of faith, handed in his notice at Horizon and went self employed as a stained glass artist, working from home. In the early days he teamed up with another stained glass artist he had previously worked with at Hardman Studios, Clive Sinclair. Clive was more of a ‘go-getter’ than Dad, and found work that Dad might not have otherwise found. But nevertheless, as Dad became more widely known, he was frequently contacted directly by the different churches themselves and other places that might be in need of a new window or repairs.

 

Some of his earliest works were new design commissions, the first of which was the Our Lady of Lourdes window at the Holy Family Church, Dagenham, featured here on this website. This was followed soon after by the Pentecost window at the Church of Our Lady and St Michael, Shipston-on-Stour (also on this website).

 

At the other end of the scale, Dad did window restoration work, including work on medieval windows. Some of this work was for Birmingham Museum, which holds a large collection of stained glass and cartoons (templates), some of which is on display in their Industrial Gallery.

 

Dad is now semi-retired but will take on jobs if they particularly appeal to him, and continues to do glass painting. Of his three daughters, Ester (the little one on his shoulders in the photo) is the only one who has shown a sustained interest in stained glass. She worked alongside him for several years as an informal apprentice, learning ‘the tricks of the trade’. She is now an independent stained glass artist with her own flourishing business of 20 years called Off the Wall Stained Glass.

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