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Perth’s leadlight heritage owes much to three generations of the one family, whose contribution – both in restoring and making – spans 62 years. At 29, Bree Harper Mainstone is not only the most recent generation to join the family leadlighting fold, but also one of the youngest professionals in Australia.

Stained Glass Designers in PerthIt was Robert Mainstone senior – Bree’s beloved “Pop” – who opened the first Mainstone leadlighting business in 1948 and it’s a business he still runs today in the original store in Beaufort Street. Meanwhile, Bree’s mother Tracey Boshart Mainstone and uncle Rob Mainstone have run West Perth Glass and Leadlights for two decades.

Bree joined their team five years ago. “I wasn’t brought up with the expectation that I would go into this business,” she says. “I’d always done glass at home and, as a little girl, I used to draw with the artists in Pop’s shop, but Mum wanted me to have a different career.”

Bree studied coastal land management and worked in hospitality before traveling in Australia and overseas. When she arrived home, however, it was obvious where her passion lay. “So, Mum said ‘alright then, you can come and play here now!'”

Western Australia has few leadlight artisans, so there’s no shortage of work – particularly in restoration. Bree reveals that often a panel brought in for repair turns out to be one that has met the Mainstones on previous occasions. “A smashed window that my grandfather or mother made or repaired may come to me to be repaired again for whatever reason.”

Identifying a Mainstone original relies on a lifelong knowledge of the family’s work. “As a child, I might have watched my mother or grandfather making the piece, or I may recognise it from when I flicked through the portfolios,” says Bree. The Mainstone portfolio archive of design drawings, which are called cartoons, numbers many hundreds – Bree says it would be impossible to give an exact figure. Asked how strictly the cartoons are catalogued, she laughs and rolls her eyes. “All I can say is that we have a system that works for us! Basically, there are separate folders for feature panels, geometrics, Art Nouveau, Art Deco and so forth.”

Lead LightingIt’s an advantage if a leadlight brought in for repair was one created by her relatives because she can refer to a cartoon. It is much more challenging when a badly damaged panel has been made by another artisan because the original drawing isn’t available. “It’s like trying to piece together a glass jigsaw puzzle,” she explains. “So, first I take a rubbing so that I have a template of the lead lines. Even then, with complicated pictorial panels, I prefer to remove and replace the glass one piece at a time,” explains Bree.

While the process is painstaking, successful repair is guaranteed if it’s done methodically. However, it’s not just the glass that gets an overhaul. In most cases, Bree also replaces all the lead because it weakens over time. So, this is good prevention against future stresses on a piece. “Older glass is usually thick and heavy, and with a full door panel there’s a lot of swing, so there can be slight movement of the glass. The lead does have flexibility, so it doesn’t push against the glass and cause it to crack,” explains Bree, “but you still want to make the repair as sturdy as possible.”

The suburbs surrounding her West Perth workshop – such as Mount Hawthorn, Mount Lawley, Leederville and Highgate – are full of Federation and Art Deco houses featuring characteristic leadlights. Many of these homes are modestly sized and, today, are rental properties. They tend to be subject to more careless damage than owner occupied homes, so leadlights are at risk.

Perth Stained Glass DesigningIf damage does occur, some landlords may not bother to maintain them, as leadlight restoration is expensive.

This is a great shame when you consider those leadlights were all handmade and many were one-offs, designed and crafted by talented artisans. However, luckily, many people do appreciate not just the beauty of their leadlights, but also the heritage value.

Matching glass during the repair process can be complicated. Take the example of a window with four identical blue-glass squares in the centre, only one of which is broken. If Bree can’t obtain the same glass, she replaces all four pieces in order to retain the design’s integrity. The three unbroken squares then go into her glass stock for future repairs. “We’ve got a stock of antique glass that’s built up over the years, and I believe it’s important to use this rather than reproduction glass when matching an original,” says Bree. However, repairing is only half her work. She also makes new pieces and enjoys contemporary residential work.

Commissions are always an exciting prospect and Bree benefits from having an expert to discuss them with – her mother Tracey, who designed the black swan windows in Parliament House.

Designs for Lead LightingAnother aspect of the job involves home renovations and extensions. “People either want panels to match existing ones or they ask me to produce a contemporary twist that complements the style in the more traditional rooms,” she explains.

While born and bred into the leadlight business, Bree is not one to sit back and enjoy the ride. She recently attended a
conservators’ conference in New York as a member of the Architectural Glass Design Australia guild. While there, she went behind the scenes at the city’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the work of leadlighting luminaries Louis Comfort
Tiffany and Frank Lloyd Wright. Also on this trip, she mingled with international delegates who had worked on stained glass dating from the 14th century.

Australia has a much shorter leadlight tradition, but Bree still relishes the thought that she is contributing to the salvage of heritage items at home. “It’s also satisfying to think in years to come, if my own work is still out there, maybe someone like me will be asked to restore it,” she smiles.

It could even be a family member who repairs her pieces. Her uncle Rob’s nineyear-old daughter, Paityn, often joins her when she’s drawing, and Bree is sure she will follow into the family business. Yes, it seems likely that the Mainstone name will be shining brightly in leadlights for many years to come. Get a quote

Text by Julia Berney and courtesy of Scoop – Insite magazine. Photos by Aaron Bunch.

  • Contacts

    Perth Stained Glass Studio

    Bree Mainstone Harper
    0419 910 314

    Tracey Boshart
    0414 766 804

    **Best to call first as we are sometimes out on site.
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