Although produced on a mass scale, stained, painted and leadlight glass windows are made using traditional craft practices. Even if they are created from standardised designs, ultimately someone has to cut the glass shapes by hand and fit each piece into lead framing and solder the whole together.

By Walter Cook

There is a huge number of stained and painted glass windows in New Zealand. From 1982 to 1984, Fiona Ciaran based at Canterbury University, located and photographed approximately 10,000 of these windows in churches and public buildings. [1]

Many of the stained and painted glass windows in New Zealand churches were imported. The greatest number came from Britain, but a significant number came from Ireland, France, Germany and Belgium, as well as some from Australia. British and Irish imports from 1910 to 1940 included work by distinguished arts and crafts designers, examples of which can be seen in the Christchurch Hospital nurses chapel and the old crematorium chapel, Karori, Wellington. [2]

William Mathew Hodgkins, 'Evening service at St Joseph's, Dunedin', 1890.

Alexander Turnbull Library, B-066-013

From the mid 1890s, some New Zealand firms making leadlights established studios designing and manufacturing stained and painted glass windows. Leadlight manufacture in New Zealand predated studios making stained and painted glass by about thirty years. This craft was an adjunct to trade businesses such as plumbers, glass merchants, joiners and decorators. One of the earliest was Stallard and Mills, plumbers, painters and paperhangers of Nelson established in the late 1850s. By 1863 they were advertising ‘lead lights made to any pattern with stained glass of any colour’. [3]

Much of the imported glass used in leadlighting went by the trade name of “cathedral glass.” This was mass produced and often textured, and is still in production today and still imported into New Zealand. Though cathedral glass included strong colours, many of the windows made from it tended more to pastel tints compared with glass used in stained and painted church windows. Taylor and Oakley, plumbers, gas fitters, and metal workers, a Christchurch firm established in 1875 were advertising leadlight services by 1884 [4]. A large example of their work dating from 1886 can be seen in the sanctuary window in St Joseph’s Cathedral, Dunedin. The glass is pale and watery compared with the glass in the fourteen nave windows installed about the same time and made by Meyer and Co of Munich using mouth blown stained glass.

From the 1880s leadlights were increasingly used in houses, but the great age of domestic leadlights in New Zealand dates from 1900 to 1930. During this period leadlight design derived from the styles of art nouveau. As Jock Philips and Chris Maclean illustrate in their book In the Light of the Past [5] there was a great range of art nouveau styles used, but one in particular had lasting appeal, whether in the houses of patricians or the builder’s bungalow. This pattern was derived from the Glasgow School of Art and is typified by segmental circular roses in tones of red with green leaves of simple shape, combined with clear, bevelled, and textured glass.

Leadlights were also used in furniture such as sideboards and china cabinets into the 1950s. By the 1970s New Zealanders were restoring old housing stock. This demanded the restoration of leadlights. As a result there was a revival of leadlighting ranging from art nouveau pastiche to modern designs. Artists also began to work in the medium. Currently the design and manufacture of leadlights is flourishing in New Zealand.

Decorative lead light in a Wellington house (1906), Window designed and made in the stained glass studio of Robert Martin, painter, paperhanger, and house decorator, Manners Street, Wellington. Firm in operation from 1863 to 1922.

Rosemary Fullerton-Smith, 1983 © All Rights Reserved Walter Cook

The earliest studio for stained and painted glass was established in Dunedin by Robert Fraser in about 1893.  Fraser had trained in England and designed elaborate windows for houses in fashionable baroque and rococo styles in the late 1890s and early 1900s.  The studio continued to make windows for houses into the 20th century, but Fraser focused more and more on designing church windows.  In 1943 he his studio was sold to Dunedin sign writer Oswald Miller, whose son, Roy Miller, trained by Fraser, continued to manufacture stained and painted glass windows using New Zealand and English designers.  From 1970 Roy Miller collaborated with designer Beverly Shore-Bennett until his retirement in 1980, and the studio continued this association until it closed in 1987.  Examples of Shore-Bennett’s work can be seen in St Paul’s Cathedral, Wellington [6].  Examples of other early studios making stained and painted glass were Bradley Brothers, Christchurch, Robert Martin, Wellington, and Smith and Smith, Dunedin, Christchurch and Wellington.  These firms were also making leadlights for houses.

West window of the Holy-Trinity Cathedral in Parnell, Auckland. designed by Robert Ellis and Shane Cotton (2004).

Photograph: Andrewrabbott © CC-BY-SA Wikipedia

Today stained and painted glass windows are designed and made in New Zealand, though people with these skills probably spend much of their time restoring existing windows.  One example are the windows in the nave and west end of Holy Trinity Cathedral, Auckland.  These were designed by artists Nigel Brown, Robert Ellis, and Shane Cotton, and manufactured by Suzanne and Ben Hanley at their Auckland studio, The Glassworks.  As well as church windows this studio designs and makes windows for houses and public buildings, many of which could be classified as modern leadlights.

Header image: This stained glass window was manufactured by William Morris Co (1910-1935), a company synonymous with the British Arts Crafts movement. Morris Co stained glass windows can be viewed in a number of New Zealand churches, particularly in the Canterbury region. These include St James in Riccarton, Christchurch and St Mary's in the Esk Valley.  Te Papa,  GH020700

Crafting Aotearoa 

This article is part of a collection of 52 essays that form an online companion to the book, Crafting Aotearoa. Spanning three centuries of making and thinking in Aotearoa New Zealand and the wider Moana (Pacific), this book looks at the artistic practices that, at different times and for different reasons, have been described by the term craft. Crafting Aotearoa tells previously untold stories of craft in Aotearoa New Zealand, so that the connections, as well as the differences and tensions, can be identified and explored. This book proposes a new idea of craft – one that acknowledges Pākehā, Māori and wider Moana histories of making, as well as diverse community perspectives towards objects and their uses and meanings.

Edited by Karl Chitham, Kolokesa U Māhina-Tuai and Damian Skinner

Hardcover book published by Te Papa Press

RRP $94.00

Buy now


Cook, Walter. 'Stained Glass Windows', Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira, Published: 11 11 2019.


[1]. See ‘Stained Glass Windows of Canterbury, New Zealand,’ Fiona Ciaran, University of Otago Press, 1998, p 14, paragraph 4.

[2]. Canterbury examples can be found in Fiona Ciaran's book on stained glass

[3]. Colonist [Nelson], 20 March 1863, p 4. 

[4]. Lyttelton Times, 19 February 1884, p 2. 

[5].‘In the Light of the Past; Stained Glass Windows in New Zealand Houses,’ Jock Phillips and Chris Maclean, Oxford University Press, Auckland and Melbourne, 1983.

[6]. Brian Miller, 'Capturing Light: Roy Miller New Zealand Stained Glass Artist.' Lifelogs Ltd, Dunedin, 2016.