Glass artist portrays Northumberland

THE landscape and wildlife of Northumberland have been celebrated in paintings, photography, sculpture and words - Helen Grierson does it in stained glass.

Working from her studio at Eshott Heugh in Northumberland, she draws inspiration from the coast, hills and countryside of the county.

Now an exhibition of her work, titled Northumberland in Glass, opens on Monday at Bellingham Heritage Centre and continues until October 14.

A regular beat of Helen, who lives in Widdrington, is nearby Druridge Bay, Amble and Newbiggin by the Sea, where her mother Margaret grew up.

Helen says: “When I go out walking I take a camera and a lot of my work is based on the images I take and on the sea, sand and the hills.”

People often commission works from Helen featuring wildlife and the Northumbrian landscape. Her stained glass image of a heron was for clients who frequently see the birds near their home in the North Tyne.

Other subjects include blue tits and Hadrian’s Wall. For her Bellingham exhibition, she has worked on views of the area’s heather-clad moorland.

Helen grew up in Ashington, where her father John worked at Woodhorn Colliery. She left at 18 to take a teaching degree and moved to London.

For 20 years she worked as a teacher in the capital, where she met husband Joe Rocca.

They would visit Helen’s family in Northumberland from time to time.

“There was always that feeling of coming home when we crossed the Tyne which was very strong. It’s in your bones,” says Helen. “When you are in London and you only have yourself to consider it is very exciting.”

But living as a family with their two daughters was different, and she recalls: “London is hectic and we were working 24/7 and living in a small terraced house.”

They decided to head back to Northumberland and Helen followed her interest in art through night classes.

It was from a class in leading that she became interested in stained glass.

She started her business in her garage and graduated to a garden shed, then a studio in Newcastle’s Biscuit Factory.

Three years ago she switched to her current studio in converted farm buildings at Eshott Heugh, five miles north of Morpeth off the A1, where the public can wander in and watch her at work.

She also runs stained glass workshops.

She is now including studies of landmarks such as Newbiggin bay and church, St Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay and the pit head at Woodhorn.

Her ultimate dream is to see a glass centre, offering workshops, glass and equipment, established in Northumberland, drawing on the region’s long glass-making pedigree.

“The North East once had a lot of glass works but nobody makes glass in this country any more,” she says.

“All fused glass comes from the US and stained glass from China, Germany and Italy.”

Helen’s website is www.A1glassstudio.co.uk and she can be contacted on 07905478767.

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