stained glass

The Appreciation of Stained Glass by Sasha Ward

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On a beautiful day in Dorset, here I am in front of a cricket pitch on my way into Milton Abbey to appreciate some stained glass. Once inside, the abbey opens into a magnificent tall transept. On the north side is a monument to the Damers underneath a heraldic window bordered by roses and on the south side a huge tree of Jesse window designed by AWN Pugin and made by Hardmans, in typically vivid colours.

Left, south transept window above monument to Joseph & Caroline Damer. Right, Tree of Jesse window by Pugin, 1847.

Left, south transept window above monument to Joseph & Caroline Damer. Right, Tree of Jesse window by Pugin, 1847.

However, I was not in Milton Abbas for the abbey but rather to see a Lawrence Lee window in St James Church in the famous landscaped village street. I’ve never knowingly seen a Lee window, but he wrote a book “The Appreciation of Stained Glass” which was one in the series on the appreciation of the arts published by the Oxford University Press. That was in 1977, the year that I went to the Central School of Art to do my Foundation Course and to learn how to make stained glass properly - in preparation I read Lee’s book thoroughly. Re reading it now I can see where I picked up many of my stained glass dos and don’ts based on the study of church windows - in particular lots of don’ts and harsh opinions on celebrated twentieth century windows.

Left, in front of the 1970 Lee window (I usually need a chair for taking photos). Right, the top of the window

Left, in front of the 1970 Lee window (I usually need a chair for taking photos). Right, the top of the window

I particularly like his chapter on (glass) painting which is one of the few to show an example of his own work, a distinctive head of St. Columba. Just from those few images I would have recognised these figures anywhere, and I’ve concluded that it’s his figures I particularly like, when usually it’s the figures in a window that I hate. These, St Catherine and the Virgin Mary shown below, remind me of inky black and white book illustration of the same period. Here is a passage from the painting chapter that is good to bear in mind when on these church visiting trips :

“The argument will always go on between those who make and those who talk about what is made - and it is very useful to both parties that it should be so. I believe, however, that in the context of this Appreciation of the Arts Series we ought to instruct ourselves to look, filtering out as far as possible any purely mental questions about dates, styles, authenticities and so on (all that is fun afterwards), so that appreciation becomes an impulsion of our physical self toward’s the artists work We must literally pick up from the very point at which the glass painter’s brush left the glass, seeing what he saw as he laid it aside for firing.”

Lawrence Lee details - left, St Catherine and right, The Virgin and child.

Lawrence Lee details - left, St Catherine and right, The Virgin and child.

Tom Denny window, St Mary, Tarrant Hinton 2000

Tom Denny window, St Mary, Tarrant Hinton 2000

Our route home went through Tarrant Hinton, so we made a stop to see a Tom Denny window. I have seen so much of his work recently that it’s beginning to grow on me - the leading patterns so particular that you can spot one in a church even when driving past. The presence of this small window, on a Dorset landscape theme, is huge with an overall golden glow. Here are some wise words from Denny:

“Colour is the most immediate thing about glass; most of your problems are solved if the colour is right for the place. Although I don’t aim to make glass look as if it were made hundreds of years ago, a happy by-product of the way I work - etching, plating and staining - not only enriches the surface, but creates a visual fragility equivalent to old glass.” From an interview with Tom Denny in Contemporary Stained Glass Artists by Kate Baden Fuller A & C Black 2006.

I forgot to take the outside of the Tarrant Hinton window, so I’ve shown one in Leicester (below) from inside and out. You can see the irregular look of the lead pattern, and also the way that he draws his figures (animals in the Dorset window) as if they are knitted in to the backgrounds. That part of his work hasn’t grown on me yet, perhaps it’s the hardest thing to do well.

One of two Tom Denny 2016 windows in Leicester Cathedral from the inside and the outside.

One of two Tom Denny 2016 windows in Leicester Cathedral from the inside and the outside.

From Glass to Needlework by Sasha Ward

Window of the risen Christ and detail showing the little gold head, John Hayward, 1968.

Window of the risen Christ and detail showing the little gold head, John Hayward, 1968.

There’s lots of good twentieth century stained glass in the Church of St Mary and St Bartholomew, Hampton in Arden in the West Midlands. The window shown here is by John Hayward - with the unmistakable figures in profile, some hidden in backgrounds made of crisscross lines on blocks of colour. As usual, I prefer the details and the minor characters, for example the little gold head under Christ’s arm, to the overall composition. But the window looks great in its setting (below) with a wonderful bit of coordinated interior decor (how un church like!) in the embroidered cushions on the long bench leading up to the window.

View of the church interior, looking east from the entrance door, showing long bench on the south wall.

View of the church interior, looking east from the entrance door, showing long bench on the south wall.

There is an impressive information booklet that goes with the needlework, such as you never get for a stained glass window. Not only subject matter - “it depicts the risen Christ, holding aloft the flag, with his angels going out to bring the light of the resurrection to the souls of the departed” - but also details on the design and manufacture, with acknowledgements not only to the donors but also to the frame maker, design tracer, upholsterer and suppliers of the materials (John Cordwell, Robin Watkin, Parkes of Earlsdon and stitches of Solihull). The village needlewomen tell us they made a panel each and the project lasted from 2002-5 (!!!). They write “We were once again privileged to have the inspiration of the Reverend John de Wit, our priest in charge 1994 - 2004, for the design. It was decided that this should link with the window and thus bring the while concept into the body of the church….. One of the challenges has been to maintain the continuity of the designs because they flow from one panel to another and this had to be so exact for the joining of the sections” The concept and the linear version of the design works really well, although inevitably the bench was covered with leaflets and boxes when I was there.

Glass angel by John Hayward, needlepoint angel by Janet Hardcastle

Glass angel by John Hayward, needlepoint angel by Janet Hardcastle

It is interesting to compare the stained glass angels to the needlepoint ones, the hand positions show you which is which. More from the booklet “The canvas on which we worked uses ten stitches to the inch, which made the depiction of the details very taxing. For instance, one stitch in the face of an angel can make a huge difference to the expression!”

Needlepoint angels by Marjorie Iles and Janet Griffiths

Needlepoint angels by Marjorie Iles and Janet Griffiths

Christ Church, Southgate N.14 by Sasha Ward

North Aisle, left to right: Liberalitas & Humanitas (1899), Prudentia & Justitia (1885), Temperentia & Caritas (1876), Spes & Fides (1876)

North Aisle, left to right: Liberalitas & Humanitas (1899), Prudentia & Justitia (1885), Temperentia & Caritas (1876), Spes & Fides (1876)

I’ve rediscovered my enthusiasm for the stained glass of Morris & Company after visiting Christ Church in Southgate, North London. The windows in this church cover every period of the firm’s production from 1861 until the twentieth century, with designs by William Morris, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Ford Madox Brown, Philip Webb and Edward Burne-Jones. The photos I’d seen were mainly those rare early windows designed, made and painted by the partners in the original firm, in the Victorian Medieval style i.e small figures engulfed by patterned borders and backgrounds. But the ones I really liked are shown in the photo below. There are pairs of figures in all the windows of the north and south aisle, they look great from a distance because of this consistency of design and are full of amazing detail and colour. Burne-Jones designed all except the figure of St. Francis which is the latest and is by Henry Dearle (1911).

Left: Detail from Liberalitas. Right: The figure of Justitia

Left: Detail from Liberalitas. Right: The figure of Justitia

The eight figures in the north aisle are all fantastic examples of the firm’s stained glass style as it developed, with gorgeous patterned backgrounds and drapery in Liberalitas and Humilitas (above left) and the use of amazing coloured glass, particularly in Justitia (above right.)

The next two pairs of windows were made earlier, the figures of Temperentia and Caritas are flowing and curvy, with a pair of astonishing babies, shown below left. The earliest two, Spes and Fides are plainer, calmer and they let in a lot more light.

Left: Babies at the feet of Caritas. Right: The figure of Fides

Left: Babies at the feet of Caritas. Right: The figure of Fides

South Aisle, left to right: Patientia & Pax (1909), Martha & Phebe (1903), King David & St Francis (1911), St Peter & St Paul (1865).

The figures on the south side are all much darker, particularly the matching backgrounds. Below are details of two of the figures, with beautifully painted faces, hands and clothes. In the set of windows in this church the faces are all different and quite mesmerising. At the end of the row (above right) are earlier windows of Saints Peter and Paul with wildly patterned surrounds, they are figures familiar to me from other Morris & Co windows.

Left: The figure of Patientia. Right: The figure of Martha.

Left: The figure of Patientia. Right: The figure of Martha.

The other pair of windows that show the designs of EBJ at his flowing best are high up on the north wall of the chancel, apparently the first ones where he used photographic enlargement of drawings to prepare the stained glass cartoons. All in lovely light colours and with a great detail of a rip over the knee of the ragged girl (below right) visible even from a distance.

North chancel: Left, Dorcas. Right, The Good Samaritan (1876).

North chancel: Left, Dorcas. Right, The Good Samaritan (1876).

Clifton by Sasha Ward

Inside All Saints: The River of Life and The Tree of Life - west windows.

Inside All Saints: The River of Life and The Tree of Life - west windows.

On a trip to Bristol, we visited a church and a cathedral on the same street in Clifton, both with unusual windows from the 1960s and 1970s. The first, All Saints, was bombed in 1940 and a new church designed by Robert Potter, completed in 1967, was built around the remaining elements. All the windows in the church are by John Piper, they are made of fibreglass on to which Piper poured coloured resins. These windows are controversial because of this experimental technique which has not weathered very well. I had seen pictures of the west windows (above right) and although I knew I didn’t like the simplistic design, I also knew I had to see them in situ to make a considered judgement. Actually I found the Tree of Life repellant in real life: the oversized branches with the dots on them look to me like someone shouting and pushing you away.

Inside All Saints, looking east towards the altar.

Inside All Saints, looking east towards the altar.

However, when you turn around you are in for a lovely surprise. The angled walls (above right) behind the altar and the decorated canopy are plain and flanked by two tall subtle windows, there are blue Piper windows in the Lady Chapel to the right as well as numerous narrow windows of coloured dots on a dark ground. All of these, none particularly transparent, make the interior dark, interesting and coordinated. I could see where the windows were deteriorating, with streaks and white patches on the coloured layers, but this sort of adds to the experimental qualities in these works - one of only two churches where Piper used the technique.

Detail of east window and blue windows in the elevated Lady Chapel.

Detail of east window and blue windows in the elevated Lady Chapel.

Across the road is Clifton Cathedral, designed by Percy Thomas Partnership and completed in 1973. There are many wonderful things about this building including the hexagonal sanctuary space, the roof shapes, the stations of the cross by William Mitchell and the Lady Chapel candelabra (below right) designed by the architects and made at Prinknash Abbey. All these make for a beautifully coordinated interior.

Inside the Cathedral Church of Ss. Peter and Paul, with stations of the cross by William Mitchell and candelabra.

Inside the Cathedral Church of Ss. Peter and Paul, with stations of the cross by William Mitchell and candelabra.

The stained glass wall is set slightly apart on an angled wall in the narthex and is the work of Henry Haig, another artist whose windows I know quite well. The subject matter is “Pentecost” and “Jubilation”, but I read them as landscapes, one gentle (below left) and one fiery (below right). The experimental technique that he used for these was dalle de verre set in epoxy resin, with chunks of thick, textured glass (because you break it with a hammer) providing all the colour that the interior needs.

Henry Haig’s dalle de verre windows

Henry Haig’s dalle de verre windows

Detail of left hand window and close up of the chunks of glass set in resin.

Detail of left hand window and close up of the chunks of glass set in resin.

This was a quick visit that provided an obvious contrast in stained glass techniques: the rich material quality of Haig versus the fluid washes of Piper. My companions weren’t particularly impressed with the Haig windows, and I’m not mad on the random vagueness of the design either. However because they are contemporary with their setting they look completely right for the place and totally solid. The buildings are easy to spot as they both have unusual prominent towers, it’s a great treat to see two interiors that look so “modern” almost fifty years on.

Rooflines by Sasha Ward

Staircase windows, each panel 880 x 300 mm

Staircase windows, each panel 880 x 300 mm

Just installed is this three part internal window for artist blacksmith and friend Melissa Cole in her newly built house. At front left in the snap above you can see a corner of her balustrade, it’s made of lines of metal that look like a scratchy drawing, and hopefully a bit like the scratchy lines in the landscape part of my design. The themes in this window revisit subject matter from my Kelmscott designs where roof shapes were placed in a pattern made from the local landscape.

When I visited the house during construction, the set of plans (below) was up on the wall - how could I resist basing my design on a roof plan that looked like a flower?

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Roof under construction: flower roof

Roof under construction: flower roof

I liked my first sketches, collages of the roof under construction and the flower roof shape. However, I found it hard to work them into the format of the window openings. So I made a 3D model of the roof, with the aim of stretching it to a landscape format without losing the real shape.

House in the landscape: paper model of the roof

House in the landscape: paper model of the roof

sketches showing development of the design

sketches showing development of the design

As I developed the design, the geometric shape of the roof flowed into curves that spread into the surrounding areas. The straight lines tie the panels together across the roof cross, in the glass these are picked out with a sandblasted white line. I was pleased with the restraint I exercised in my use of colour. Once Melissa had chosen the strong orange and I had mixed up a metallic pink/purple for the roof (marvellous new colour that changes with light on or through it), there was only room for neutrals and a lot of white - the neutrals appear very green in the photo of the panels in my studio window below. As they should, the panels look best in the place they were made for. Thanks to an ideal, positive talking commissioner who insisted that it’s the artist who has to be happy with the work as much as the client.

Panels in the studio this summer.

Panels in the studio this summer.