Glass sculpture creates window onto Minsmere

Arabella Marshall at work in her studio

Glass artist Arabella Marshall at work in her studio creating A Wing and A Prayer - Credit: Arabella Marshall

The world may still be locked down but there is an artistic treat awaiting us at RSPB Minsmere when we are, once again, free to roam our wild coastline.

Glass artist Arabella Marshall has come up with a spectacular project entitled A Wing And A Prayer – a wonderful stained glass window which has been mounted into a shattered wall of a disused chapel on the walk from Eastbridge which was once the original location for Leiston Abbey in the early Middle Ages.

The project was installed at the end of 2020 after five years of detailed planning but with lockdown coming in on Boxing Day only the locals around Leiston will have had chance to see it.
Arabella is keen to keep things positive and remains philosophical. “It’ll still be here when we come out of lockdown and I would love people out walking in the early summer sunshine to see the sun coming through the coloured glass.”

glass sculpture in the chapel window

The 'A Wing and a Prayer' glass sculpture in position at the Minsmere chapel - Credit: Tim Curtis

The ‘A wing and Prayer’ project is the most ambitious installation that Arabella has undertaken – an artist more used to creating doors and windows for people’s homes – but, she wanted to make a statement in the landscape, something that mirrored the natural beauty of Suffolk’s heritage coast.

She was inspired quite by accident while on her first visit to Minsmere. “It was about five years ago, I was walking at Minsmere, it was my first trip, and I came across this little ruined chapel, which I had no idea was there and I just found myself fascinated with it and how it had become part of the environment.

Workmen assembling glass sheets

Workmen busily working on the installation of A Wing and a Prayer at the ruined Minsmere chapel - Credit: Tim Curtis

“As I was heading home, I got an idea that wouldn’t it be marvellous to make a kind of window for this old ruin. There were all sort of elements to that particular location that I find really intriguing – obviously it’s a beautiful, very peaceful place but it’s also full of contradictions – you have got Sizewell which is visual from pretty much every spot, there are World War II remains scattered around and in the chapel itself there is even a Second World War pill box built into where the altar once was.”

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Having had the idea the next step was to discover who owned the land (it was the RSPB) and as it was in an area of outstanding natural beauty liaison with Suffolk Coast and Heaths was also a necessity – this came up trumps when they provided access to funding to help pay for the creation of the installation.

Even so the road from idea to realisation was a long one. “I thought, naively, it might take me a year, possibly two to get everything in place but it’s taken me five because I had never done a public project like this, where I am starting from scratch.

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“I had to sort permissions and the technical aspects of how to construct the installation was huge. It was a steep learning curve. I had to make the glass and take in things like wind factor which I had not had to do up until that point.

“I had to worry about things like thermal shock to make sure it was really safe to be displayed in a public environment. It was an amazing challenge but every time I made a phone call about whatever problem I had come up against or I needed a permission I got the most wonderful support. People were always up for it, really positive – no-one ever said: ‘Well I wouldn’t do that if I were you.’

Arabella Marshall looking at Minsmere

Glass artist Arabella Marshall looking out at Minsmere through the window that will hold her glass sculpture - Credit: Arabella Marshall

“I am sad that we have got it in place and only those people in the immediate vicinity can see it but it will still be there for people to encounter when lockdown ends.

“I had always planned to make a film about the piece, possibly a little further down the road but with lockdown being reintroduced just as we were installing it I thought: ‘Why not make the film now and it can engage with the people who would love to encounter the piece on walk but can’t at the moment.

detail of the glass sculpture

Detail of the A Wing and a Prayer glass sculpture - Credit: Tim Curtis

“The wonderful Woodbridge film-maker Tim Curtis made a beautiful film about the piece itself and the installation process itself. It’s a lovely record of the making of this mad, wild, challenging adventure.”

Phase two of the project will be very much about public engagement and Arabella is busily devising workshops, drawing events, walk and talks, schools events – all of which will swing into action once lockdown ends.

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