Dunedin an historic stained glass centre

Dunedin was founded in 1848, and by 1860 it was still a small town with fewer than 2000 people. But after gold was discovered nearby in 1861 the population grew quickly and Dunedin was soon transformed into the largest and wealthiest city in the country, and from the late 19th century onwards stained glass windows became a feature of many of the large houses and mansions being built around the city.

Dunedin was initially the head office for many large New Zealand companies, and the importation and production of leadlights, embossed glass and stained glass flourished in the city to meet the demand for the new buildings and churches. The city has two cathedrals and many substantial churches largely built during the Victorian ‘Gothic Revival’ era. The city became a centre for New Zealand-made stained glass production from the 1890s and for many decades windows were shipped to churches all over New Zealand. Robert Fraser and John Brock were two key glass artists in the early period, and companies such as Smith and Smith Ltd., Raffles, Aburns Glass played a significant part in the industry. By the early 20th century all four main cities in New Zealand had companies painting and firing stained glass for several decades.

Making stained glass windows is expensive and they were a mark of prestige for some wealthy citizens. Homegrown New Zealand decorative windows began with the production of ‘leadlight’ fanlights in ordinary houses (which involves clear or coloured glass held by lead strips), but this all fell out of fashion after WW2.

During the second half of the 20th century, while the newly prospering cities further north were tearing down their old-style buildings, Dunedin’s economy was slowing down. Most of Dunedin’s old Victorian buildings were kept intact, along with their stained glass windows. Today, Dunedin, with a population of about 125 000, is recognised as one of the best-preserved Victorian cities in the world, its churches and mansions containing a valuable record of stained glass windows.

Oswell Miller bought Robert Fraser’s glass studio and Fraser began teaching Roy Miller the art of stained glass production after WW2 before he retired. Roy then developed the Miller Studio’s glass department over the next three decades, but the industry collapsed after the 1987 economic downturn and the studio was finally closed in 1988. Most stained glass work in Dunedin today has more to do with conservation and repair, than the production of new windows.

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