David Esler - Master Glass Maker

'I see it as a religious experience. It's an act of faith.'

Artist David Esler has been working in the medium of stained glass for 38 years and has carried out major commissions for ecclesiastical, corporate and private situations. 

‘I guess I see it as a religious experience,’ he told the John Hewitt spring festival in April 2005. ‘It’s an act of faith for me to embark upon a project.’

Esler, from Ballyclare, sees stained glass making as a unique discipline: ‘Opening windows and letting light in. The reverse of painting in a sense.’

Recent projects include a memorial window erected at the offices of Castlereagh Council to commemorate the lives lost in the La Mon House Hotel bombing in 1978. Twelve people were murdered by the IRA in one of the worst atrocities of the Troubles.

The project was ‘very daunting’ as many of the emotional wounds were still raw. ‘Working with a group of people who 20 odd years ago went through this traumatic situation … trying to encapsulate their grief and pain … You learn very quickly, it’s very humbling.’

Using the versatility of traditional techniques of painting, staining and enamelling Esler has developed a strong distinctive style of work. Inspiration comes from poetry, nature and symbolism, which influence the themes and narratives for Esler’s more recent series of commissions.

Three windows at Stormont Castle were inspired by the John Hewitt poem Man, Fish and Bird, which has a religious feel. ‘It’s a very enigmatic poem, very different from his other poetry.’

A Protestant living in East Belfast, in the early days of the Troubles Esler found himself working in a glass factory on the Springfield Road. During internment the experience of ‘observing my own side from the other side gave me a totally different perspective’. He relayed stories back to his own side from the Falls and Springfield Road. ‘It set me on a different path. John Hewitt pulls all that together for me.’

A strong sense of colour gives strength to the windows, produced at the Leadlines Studio (Est. 1983), where he is in partnership with his wife Eileen. Esler leads a strong design team with definite, innovative ideas on how to approach individual contracts. He was elected to the Associateship of The British Society of Master Glass Painters in October 2001.