‘The sky is always blue in Buxton’ stated Brian Clarke on his restoration project of the Buxton Thermal Baths in the Peak District. His design, one of the largest stained glass windows in Great Britain, encloses the original Victorian spa within a 3,100-square-foot 'skin of art'.
Forming an integral part of the restored Grade II listed building, which occupies a key position in the town’s Georgian streetscape, the landmark brings back to life the dilapidated nineteenth-century Thermal Baths, designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, thanks to a major conservation scheme which restored them as a shopping centre, the Cavendish Arcade.
The Arcade’s centrepiece is Clarke’s barrel-vaulted ceiling of mouth-blown glass, forming a covered atrium within the complex. The first drawings and studies in watercolour and collage were made in 1984, and the Arcade opened in 1987 with the artwork's installation. The restoration, guided by Derek Latham Architects and magnified by Clarke's window, received the 1987 Europa Nostra award.
Clarke describes the space as being ‘bathed in an immense blue light’. The forms of the leaded, mouthblown glass at Buxton grew out of his experiments with tearing, rather than cutting, geometric shapes from paper, resulting in organic, ‘amorphic’ figures. An early visit to the site at Buxton pushed this further – the artist recalls having seen fallen leaves on the roof of a local park’s pavilion, and observing the contrast between their autumnal colours and the sky.