Glass artist's greatest pride is last work for family

Retired stained-glass and leadlight craftsman Arthur Raffills has countless decorative pieces from his past displayed in churches, public buildings and private homes throughout the country.

However, he takes particular pride in knowing his latest - and his last - glass creations will feature prominently in his own children's houses as a special legacy of his life's work in windows.

Mr Raffills, who is terminally ill, spent much of last winter in his chilly Albert Town garage painstakingly piecing together two leadlight glass panels featuring tui on kowhai flowers.

''I thought, 'I'm going to get this done, by hook or by crook'.''

He completed the job shortly before he was diagnosed with lung, liver and lymph node cancer, which has since made it too difficult to do any further pieces.

''Towards the end of last year I thought, `just as well I got them done', as I wouldn't have been able to now.''

Looking back, his wife, Noelene, is also thankful she urged her husband to make the tui and kowhai windows for their son and his family, who plan to put them at the front entrance of their home, soon to be built near Lake Hawea.

''I think it's wonderful that that's going to happen,'' she said.

For now, the panels are carefully wrapped and stored away under a bed, waiting to be installed in their son's new house later this year.

''He's going to have to make his opening to suit,'' Mr Raffills said.

A few years earlier, he made two similar windows for his daughter and son-in-law's home in Karamea, featuring a tui and kowhai on one and a wood pigeon and pohutukawa on the other.

They joined many other one-off pieces he did for homes in Central Otago and the Upper Clutha after retiring to Albert Town in 1994, when his long career became a part-time hobby.

Mr Raffills went to work for his father, Walter, in 1949 after leaving Otago Boys' High School.

His father's company - renamed WA Raffills and Sons in 1956 - worked in conjunction with John Brock, one of the most significant stained-glass artists in Dunedin.

When Mr Raffills joined the business, he started cutting glass and making leadlights before taking over the cutting and firing work for stained-glass windows from his father.

In a kiln, he made bulged glass that was sold throughout New Zealand and completed a certificate of apprenticeship as a leadlight maker in 1954.

Some of the windows Mr Raffills completed or worked on during his career can be found at St Paul's Presbyterian Church in Oamaru, the Auckland Naval Base and St Barnabas Anglican Church in Wellington.

He also removed and reconstructed the north and south windows of Dunedin's First Church - a ''massive undertaking'' - as the Oamaru stone around them was crumbling.

He has created and restored ''numerous'' other stained-glass windows and leadlights and made leadlights for furniture, including bow and straight ends of china cabinets, which were especially popular after the war.

''It's something that I've never got bored with and there was always something different.''

After getting out of the family business in the early 1990s, he spent his last couple of working years with Aburns Glass in Dunedin.

Mr Raffills said one of the main skills required for the craft was patience, as each piece took a long time to complete, involving many processes.

''And a steady hand ... because it's all freedom cutting.''

The intricate work was ''like putting a big jigsaw together'', his wife added.

''It's a sort of art form that's not recognised. If you do a painting you sign it, but you can't really sign windows,'' she said.

The couple's own 1960s home in the older part of Albert Town is a kaleidoscope of colour, with many lampshades and interior and exterior windows and doors crafted by Mr Raffills and incorporated during renovations over the years. His clear leadlights also feature.

After decades working in Dunedin's glass merchant industry embellishing other people's architecture, the knowledge his last leadlights will be admired in his own family's home ''feels good'', Mr Raffills said.

He is feeling good health-wise, too, having vastly improved in recent months, thanks to cancer medication that is keeping the illness at bay for now.

Mrs Raffills is equally proud of her husband's many stained-glass and leadlight pieces, in both their prominent and private settings.

''He's had an interesting journey ... and he's going to leave a lot behind.''

lucy.ibbotson@odt.co.nz