Nathalie Hildegarde Liege
Stained Glass Artist and Artisan
Autumn 2018 has been a special time for Nathalie and the Couleurlive studio – it marks 20 years since she moved to Shropshire and started her business as a stained glass artist and artisan and from now until Autumn 2019 she will be sharing snapshots and memories of the past 20 years across her social media channels and hosting a number of celebratory events to mark the occasion.
Nathalie’s journey into stained glass began back in 1995 when after practising Fine Art in France and working as a guide in both the Musée d’Orsay and the Modern Art Museum of the Pompidou Centre in Paris she moved to the United Kingdom to study stained glass art in Swansea and later in Wrexham.
She moved to Shropshire in 1998 after finishing her studies and being presented with a two-year Journeyman’s Award from the Worshipful Company of Glaziers and Painters of Glass. As part of the award she acquired a fully equipped stained glass workshop at Ironbridge, in the Coalport China Museum and was mentored by Alfred Fisher. She also received a grant to start a business as a stained glass artist and artisan; which is how Couleurlive began, although it was named differently then.
Over the past 20 years Nathalie has worked on numerous projects in partnership with architects, glaziers, a research centre in Bristol and glass colleagues in Germany for private commissions, restoration pieces, and projects for heritage and public sites. She has curated architectural glass and painting exhibitions, has been invited to deliver talks and lectures and has conducted glass-painting workshops both within the community and privately at her studio.
Between the years of 2003 and 2009 Nathalie took a break from her work to battle lymphoma, a type of cancer for which she was treated with a bone marrow transplant in 2005 and given the all clear. Upon returning to work she found that her focus was different; while she had been ill and unable to manage the physical demands of stained glass work Nathalie had channelled her creativity into writing and storytelling, which she found was now driving her work in stained glass too. After 9 months of being back working in her small studio at the English Bridge Workshop, the largest studio in the building became available and Nathalie jumped at the opportunity to take it on. She had been given a fresh start, and to coincide with this renamed her studio to Couleurlive.
During her recovery, spending time at her allotment played a vital part in the healing process and when thinking of how to mark the 20th Anniversary of her studio one of Nathalie’s main priorities is to celebrate this. Her current project ‘Gardener’s ARTYchoke’ – a series of square stained glass cartoon designs that celebrate the beauty of home-grown crops created using photographs Nathalie has taken of her own crops from her allotment – does just that. Her wish for the coming years is to continue building up the catalogue and working on commissions from it, having just had her first one. Another priority for Nathalie is to continue her passion for teaching stained glass painting by hosting workshops at her own studio and working closely with existing educational bodies such as museums and schools to share her knowledge and provide accessible opportunities for people interested in the technique. To expand her teaching offering Nathalie also wishes to invest in improvements to her studio in the form of new equipment and alterations to the infrastructure of the studio itself which will allow her to fulfil one of her major goals of taking on a long term apprentice.
Naturally, celebrating 20 years encourages Nathalie to reflect on the past and the people and organisations that have helped her get to where she is today. All of that would not have been possible without the Worshipful Company of Glaziers and Painters of Glass who awarded Nathalie with her first studio in Ironbridge; Alfred Fisher who mentored her in the early days of her career; Phillida Shaw who provided her with much needed and valued encouragement and support during the period when she was unwell; the British Society of Master Glass Painters for being so understandable and supportive during her period of ill health and for all the work they do for the stained glass trade and the English Bridge Workshop for their kindness and understanding during her period of ill health and allowing her to keep on her studio as well the invaluable services they offer to the local arts community.
Journeymans Award 1998-2000
The Worshipful Company of Glaziers & Painters of Glass
Stewart McKellar, photographer, 2016
Liz Lefroy, Poet, 2016
"I have known Nathalie for many years and been an admirer of her work. She is an artist who lives her art - what results is work of integrity and unique voice. She does not aim for comfort, but truth, and in doing so reaches us where we most need to respond."
Vicky Evans-Hubbard, International Slavery Museum Education Manager, 2015
"in 2015 to commemorate 800 years since the foundation of the Magna Carta, Nathalie was invited by International Slavery Museum to work with young people in Liverpool on a project to design memorial window. Using the starting point of Magna Carta as the first human rights document, Natalie worked with the project group after weeks of research on the historical context of the Magana Carta and Modern human rights campaigns. Nathalie guided the young people through the history and process of making stained glass, worked with them on appropriate designs and colours and facilitated them as they painted their symbols and quotes onto the glass, before constructing the window in her workshop. The glass panel is now on permant display in the Martin Luther King Jnr building, at the Albert Dock, Liverpool. Thanks to Nathalie's passion, knowledge and skill, the Magna Carta 800 project is one of the most inspiring and successful ever run by International Slavery museum education. "
October 21, 2014, Alfred Fisher, stained glass artist
“This lady knows her glass inside out. I see so much poor imitative glass but Nathalie owes nothing to any designer other than herself and the richness of early mediaeval glass. Never boring - and exploring all forms of making, everything comes from her own thought and creativity so her work is unique, dedicated, personal and to be enjoyed.”
August 8th,2013, Pauline Fisk, Author
“Nathalie is a tall woman with sharp eyes behind her specs and a long dark plait. Today she has a flower tucked into her hair. Her accent pins her down as French, but her English is very good and, despite my misgivings, I find her very open. No problem about being prepared to talk. Nathalie claims to not be naturally talkative, especially about her work, but sharing is obviously very important to her.
Nathalie grew up in the suburbs of south-east Paris, the daughter of a computer analyst father and seamstress mother, whose greatest claim to fame was that she made the wedding dress for a Russian princess, the bride of Prince Michel Magaloff, married in the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Paris. ‘I regret that I don’t remember it,’ Nathalie says. ‘I was a baby in the womb when that dress was being made, and only a few months old when the wedding took place.’
After school, Nathalie chose to study Fine Art at the Sorbonne where the concept of plastic art was stretched to include studies in poetry, theology, psychology and ethnology. Afterwards she worked for a while in the Pompidou Centre, where she was influenced by the work of Louise Bourgeois, which she saw at close hand on a daily basis. ‘There was something in it,’ she says. ‘Half-serious, half-naughty. Something very French.’
Nathalie was very interested in the thinking of Joseph Beuys, in the ideas behind social sculpture and in Andrei Tarkovsky's concept of sculpting in time. The Sainte-Chapelle and Chartres cathedral windows unfolded for her a love of light and glass.
Nathalie came to the UK in 1995. In France she was confronted with two completely separate worlds functioning side by side, very much in the Renaissance tradition. In the UK, however, the roles of stained-glass designers and manufacturers were brought together, so that designers were trained to get their hands on all the techniques involved in making their own glass - and this was what Nathalie wanted. “ (…)
Nathalie graduated in 1998 and received the Worshipful Company of Glaziers and Painters of Glass Journeyman’s Award for 1998-2000, which was a great honour Her first workshop was in Ironbridge, then she moved to the English Bridge Workshop, where she’s been working ever since.
In recent years, Nathalie has produced stained-glass for private commissions as well as public and worship sites at Gobowen Hospital, Shrewsbury Cyber Café, Bryn Offa School and St Luke’s Church, Grimethorpe. Last time I visited the English Bridge Workshop, it was the St Luke’s project that was being worked on. Now Nathalie’s working on windows for St James’s, Ryhill in Yorkshire, in memory of parishioner June Mary Cooper, based on the theme of Our Lady of Walsingham – whose 950th anniversary, by a happy coincidence, was celebrated the year the windows were commissioned. “ (…)
Nathalie says that her work has changed greatly in recent years. Concurrent with her stained-glass projects she’s working on a series of fine art pieces whose source are the words Enter into the rocks and hide in the earth, taken from the Bible - Isaiah 2 v.10. For some years Nathalie has had a battle with a type of cancer, lymphoma, of which she is now clear, but which has changed her perspective. ‘Before, my work was very different,’ she says. ‘I was searching for something, but I couldn’t draw together all the strands that would make it one whole. I finally became a Greek Orthodox Christian in the year 2000. This was the result of a long journey, starting at the age of ten, moving from a position of atheism to one of belief.
Many of Nathalie’s images involve recycled or reused items – survey maps, threads of wool, letters on wood, items that otherwise might have been thrown away. Nathalie is using them, she says, to develop ideas that have been going through her mind for a long time. She describes herself as a slow burner, things going on inside which will eventually emerge, like a lid being lifted on a boiling pot. The life of the spirit, her spiritual life, is of prime importance in choosing ideas for her to develop into pieces of art. ‘We’re called to be humble towards things, but so often we’re far from humble towards nature and what is given to us. This is something that I want to get across,’ she says.
Nathalie sees her work as a form of story-telling. Before the lymphoma, she says, her focus was different. Now, however, the narrative drive of her work, in her own words, ‘just keeps going, keeps going.’ There are so many stories to tell, she says.
Nathalie’s second name, Hildegarde, is her Orthodox name. Becoming part of the Orthodox Church has plainly been a huge thing in her life. She grew up typically French, she says, baptized as a baby but unlikely to enter church again except for her wedding day. This non-activity to the point of unbelief, she feels, impacted on the way she worked, tied to deadlines, a slave to the notion of slogging it out. Now, however, she is far more flexible. When she feels that something is happening that shouldn’t be lost, she will say ‘no’ to whatever gets in its way. Before, she used to say ‘yes’ when she should have said ‘no’, but nowadays she’s more finely tuned to the life of the spirit working within herself for others. She feels that what she’s learning, and is able to create out of what life has imposed on her, shouldn’t be kept only for herself. ‘Why not share more?’ she asks.
Together we walk around the studio. Although there are real differences in the works of art on display, repeating images begin to appear. I stop before one image, a head drowning in a sea of grass. Nathalie is talking to me about the cancer and about her experiences at that difficult time. Her mother had a life threatening incurable illness too, and was slowly dying. Though miles away from each other, time had something to say to each of them and this experience enabled Nathalie to bring together the different sides of herself - artist, storyteller and seeker for a spiritual resolution. What happened to Nathalie over this period of years she describes as ‘an evolution in who I am’.
Many of Nathalie’s pieces speak of silence, everything stripped bare except the layers of self, one inside the other, interconnected mutely, as she puts it, by ‘the mystery of who we are’. A sense of change runs through her pieces, a sense of what we, here on our earth, can hope to aspire to, and what change can do to us, ‘as bitter sometimes,’ Nathalie says, ‘as it is sweet.’ There’s a fascinating mix of control and lack of it in some pieces. Nathalie smiles when I point this out. ‘But then that’s life,’ she says with a half-shrug.
In recent years, Nathalie has been writing too. Poetry was part of her training at the Sorbonne. She describes this period as ‘two years of smoke-filled rooms; an intense introduction to poetry.’ She’s been writing ever since, but more so since she started thinking about storytelling in new forms, and wanting to share more. Her writing to begin with was personal, not for publication. It took Shrewsbury poet, Liz Lefroy, to dig it out of her, she says. Since then she has gathered her poems together and given them more recognition.
Nathalie writes in French and translates into English. As well as poetry, she writes occasional pieces of fiction. On the back burner she has ideas for a series of small illustrated books, inspired by her interest in the ways we talk to children about illness. This perspective comes from being ill herself, and from losing her mother at the same time, experiencing everything stripped away except the child inside. ‘I started listening to that child,’ Nathalie says. ‘She returned to me when I was ill. What I’ve written is born of great challenges, and it’s something I very much want to share.’
In one piece of writing, ‘Grow and Hop’, Nathalie speaks about illness as an invader who’s found a kingdom to live in, using the image of a rogue seed implanted between the bricks of an old wall. Her story gives a separate voice to the child, a voice lodged in the child’s heart, speaking words of truth in clear, simple language while the adults in his or her life speak mysteries in long words to do with chemotherapy and drugs regimes. Mummy loves you, the voice inside translates. You are her little darling. These are the words the child needs to hear.
I like the way Nathalie puts things. To me it harks back to what she said about Louise Bourgeois – half-serious, half-naughty, very French. ‘Days are ongoing creations,’ she says. That’s worth thinking about. And worth thinking about too is what she means when, talking about presenting herself as an artist, she says that before and beyond anything else, she’s Nathalie Hildegarde, touche-à-tout – a manifold being.
I also like Nathalie’s work. Take a look for yourselves, and see what you think. ‘Art can slay you,’ Nathalie says, ‘if you only open your eyes. ‘Look, look. Slow down, people. Pause and look.’ “