Text of a published interview with Marc Grunseit in 1988
If during the early 80's you walked into your doctor's surgery to find your practitioner doodling with coloured pencils on a pad, you may have already met the subject of this article: Marc Grunseit M.B., B.S. - stained-glass artist.
Marc found the process of establishing a medical practice a tedious business. With time on his hands, he decided he needed a hobby and for no particular reason, chose leadlighting. The two of them got on famously from the start and an obsessive and enduring love affair began.
"I got the bug from the first time I picked up a piece of glass. That was it, I was finished." From looking for something to fill in the gaps between consultations, Marc quickly found his hobby consuming more of his thoughts than his profession. Something had to give and Medicine's loss became Art's gain. His wife, also a doctor, resigned from her job and they went traveling in Europe.
It was something he had been deferring for a long time. "When I finished high school, I wanted to go and they said 'No, no, no, you've got to go to University.' When I finished my degree I wanted to go and they said, 'No, no, no, you'll get left behind. Establish your practice.' I finally decided I had to get off the merry-go-round."
It is worth clarifying who they were. "They" were not Marc's parents, but his peers. Marc found his mother and father were very supportive. Marc's father was also a doctor and like many of his peers had regrets about unfulfilled ambitions. He didn't want Marc to experience the same frustration later in life and urged him to live out his dreams.
In Europe with its 2000 year heritage of stained glass art Marc was in his element. Archeological evidence suggests the Romans were the first to experiment with leadlighting and the oldest intact panel dates from about 700AD. He found he was particularly in awe of the work up to the Renaissance. "That is the epitome of what stained glass should be. The Gothic artists had an absolute understanding of architectural space and of how colours worked together. They knew what proportions of colours should be used and how to go about the design process to achieve that blend." It was in Germany that Marc found some of the most inspiring contemporary work. It was this which convinced Marc that stained glass offered a new and challenging frontier. "I decided to come back to Australia and have a go. I figured I'd either get it out of my system or I'd make a goer of it. And I have to say that, at the time, I really didn't think that I could do it."
Marc is relating this in his Waverley, Sydney studio in the secure knowledge that he has done it. He looks relaxed, coffee cup uncharacteristically in hand- "One cup gives me the shakes. I usually only drink it when I'm designing." - wearing faded jeans, lived-in sloppy joe and deck shoes. Above his head is a full size drawing - some 3m x 1.5m - of his most important commission to date. The design represents white men and black men living in harmony and I conjecture that it must be a Bicentennial project. Marc confirms my suspicions. He has been asked to produce windows for Sydney's Town Hall, a task which he says is "make or break", a particularly appropriate expression for one working in glass. It is a technically demanding piece and Marc is having difficulty reproducing, to his exacting standards, the image in his mind. He is trying to paint wattle onto the glass and is finding it difficult to get just the right type of stain to match the imported French glass. "It's a hassle but we'll sort it out."
It has taken Marc years to command such an important commission and to call himself, without any pretensions, a stained glass artist. Some clarification of terms is necessary. The terms leadlight window and stained glass window are generally used synonymously but those within the trade see a clear distinction between the two. Leadlighting is the simple process of using lead to assemble pieces of shaped and coloured glass into an attractive, often geometric pattern. Most people learn the basics in a night and then create the finishing touch for their renovated terrace house. Stained Glass Art is a much more sophisticated, time consuming but ultimately more rewarding craft. It involves developing and perfecting numerous talents to create more complex and stimulating images in glass. Even the term "Stained Glass Artist" is one with which Marc is not completely happy. "The Germans have a better term which translates literally as 'Glass Painter' which is exactly what we do. We paint with glass."
The creative element of Stained Glass is not its only appealing feature. "The great thing about my work is that I make my own hours and I can vary my schedule to satisfy the demands of both body and mind. Of course there's a trade off in terms of income. The old adage that you'll never make a fortune with your hands is certainly true in this game. But I make enough money to keep myself where I am and I have a wonderful time. I reckon every day I come in here and I do this, I feel like I'm getting away with something. It's too good to be true."
There are however few opportunities for those who want to become involved in stained glass. Apprenticeships, the time-honoured path to competency in Europe, are rare in this country. Marc estimates that there are only half a dozen apprentices in the whole of Australia. Very few institutions offer courses specifically in this area. Stained glass generally forms only a minor part of a broader Visual Arts course. Marc says: "People who really want to learn outside mainstream Visual Arts courses."
Marc's assistant, Miren, has deferred her Visual Arts studies for a year to concentrate her energies on glass and polish her skills under the watchful eye of an experienced artist. She performs some of Marc's simpler work and works on her own projects under the tutelage of the Master.
Marc returns from the kiln with the results of his latest attempt to achieve the wattle effect in his Bicentennial work. On an easel, with the light shining through from the busy street outside and to the intrigue of passing shoppers, Marc positions the pieces of glass, much in the manner of a jigsaw puzzle. When complete, he stands back, folds his arms across his chest and looks happy. "What do you think Miren?"
"That's much better" and since Miren is no sycophant, I am sure she must mean it.
"Yes I'm pleased with that. I was really depressed this morning but that's starting to look really good. That's just the way I imagined it."
After allowing his gaxe to linger admiringly for a little longer, he turns his attention to one of his other projects. Miren returns to wrapping copper around the tiny pieces of glass of her own work. It is anything but a frenzied environment, everything being done with painstaking deliberation. However, it is a very contented atmosphere and one can sense the appeal of this magical world of light and colour.