Meet the Ilkley-based stained glass conservator whose stunning miniatures are to be exhibited at Ely Cathedral

Fascinated as a child watching light shifting through stained glass, Jonathan Cooke had known only that he was drawn to the creation of such splendour.

Jonathan Cooke is one of Yorkshire's most esteemed stained glass conservators
Jonathan Cooke is one of Yorkshire's most esteemed stained glass conservators

He would go on to forge an illustrious career as one of the region's most esteemed stained glass conservators, but through it all that persistent artists' call has endured.

Now his own finely detailed miniatures, in such striking contrast to the grandeur of York Minster are to feature within exhibitions celebrating such journeys through creation.

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While the deftly wrought skills of a conservators' art lies in the protection and saviour of often ancient masterpieces, these pieces, he said, are born more from fragments in time.

Mr Cooke uses traditional glass painting techniques to create his artworks.

"I have always drawn and made things," he said. "It is a total obsession.

"Looking at trees moving in the wind, birds flying, or observing people at a cafe or on a bus - I never know what’s going to grab my attention.

"And I always have a pocket book and pencil with me for the 'quick sketch' - what can I capture of the moment in two minutes, one minute or less."

As a conservator now running his own Ilkley-based family business Stained Glass Conservation, Mr Cooke has worked on pieces within some of the world's most important monuments, from ancient glass at Paris' St Denis to prized pieces at Dewsbury's Thornhill Church.

Having trained under a traditional apprenticeship with the York Glaziers Trust, he also worked on the restoration of York Minster's world-famous medieval glass following the fire in 1984.

Those skills, put to use as an author and visiting lecturer at Swansea College of Art, are now informing his work in smaller, highly detailed panels contrasting his usual monumental scale.

The project first began with a group of fellow artists from London and Wales, in the hope of an exhibition last summer at Wharfedale's tiny Grade 1 listed All Saints Church in Weston.

The subject was 'Journeys: to Wharfe from Thames and Tawe', a theme that proved increasingly resonant as restrictions were introduced, but with virtual previews came a greater recognition.

The exhibition is now to open to the public on May 17 at Ely Cathedral's stained glass museum, before moving on to the ancient church of St Mary's in Barnard Castle in July.

Mr Cooke, who still uses traditional glass painting techniques, describes his own artwork as idiosyncratic and narrative in style.

Smaller in scale, the pieces depict an artists' journey, featuring scenes such as a wanderer's tale, a vivid red suitcase, and a reflection on the bonds of friendship between a dog and his human.

"Small is somehow more real to me," he reflected. "My art helps me make sense of an amazing, if crazy, world.

"I take my work seriously while I am working on a piece," he added. "When complete, I sometimes keep a piece for a short time, after which I am usually ready to let it go."

And while as a conservator his work holds a place in history through the preservation of masterpieces, as an artist he said it comes from a compulsion to draw.

He is often surprised, he added, when a complete stranger buys one of his pieces on a whim.

"Some ideas fizzle out or may be filed away for future use," said Mr Cooke. "Some won’t go away.

"I keep working, and I create a dialogue with the work in progress. The creative process is one of simultaneous euphoria and depression. But I just keep working with my ideas."

The exhibition opens at Ely Cathedral from May 17, and from July 12 it will feature within part of the St Mary's Windows to the World Festival at St Mary’s Church in Barnard Castle.

Backed by Heritage Lottery Funding, major works have been carried out here involving community archeologists under Dig Ventures, and this project will also see three vocal concerts organised and performed by Mr Cooke's son Tristram, a professional singer at Westminster Abbey, with brother Tom Cooke.

Among those to exhibit as part of Journeys are Catrin Davies, Nicola Kantorowicz, Elizabeth Lamont, Rachel Phillips and Christian Ryan.

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