Stained Glass from Welsh Churches

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Church Times

Two large photographs from the volume were used in the books section of the Church Times for 26 September. Chosen for the occasion were Margaret Edith Aldrich Rope’s window at Esclusham, Wrexham, and Wilhelmina Geddes window at Lampeter.

Llywelyn, Siwan and the Tree of Life

Window and effigy at the Church of St Cybi, Holyhead

Morris & Co., Tree of Life, 1897, over the tomb of William Owen Stanley by Hamo Thornycroft, Church of St Cybi, Holyhead

Diolch i Rhys Mwyn am dynnu sylw at fy llyfr yn ei bost diweddar. ‘Mae’n lyfr swmpus, yn gorlifo o wybodaeth ac yn frith o lyniau lliw’.

The post on his blog reflects on two windows in north Wales that are both included in the book, that of Llywelyn ab Iorwerth and Siwan at Trefriw and the window at Holyhead above the effigy of William Owen Stanley by Morris & Co. Why are these windows not better known, he wonders?

What struck me about both of them is that although he is (rightly) impressed by their colour and design, as works that are of gallery quality, neither might be thought of as art historically interesting to the stained glass historian. I identified the maker of the Trefriw window after consultation with the Church in Wales records at the National Library of Wales. It was made by A.W. Mowbray of Oxford, an example of the kind of ecclesiastical furnisher that seems to have been frowned upon by the British Society of Master Glass-Painters, which was formed in the 1920s. Similarly, the window of the Tree of Life at Holyhead, although made by the firm of William Morris, was made after Morris had died and was not the work of one of the firm’s most accomplished painters. ‘Morris’ firm with Morris dead is quite hopelessly bad’, was a quote from 1908 that I found recently when researching a booklet of the stained glass at Tenby (more on this to come shortly).

So why are these windows worthy of attention?

In the case of the window at Holyhead, wallpapers made by Morris & Co. have a broad appeal today, and although foliate panels such as this would have mainly been used as padding for larger windows in the nineteenth century, we are better able to appreciate its abstract design today. The patronage of both William Owen Stanley and his nephew Henry Stanley, third Baron Stanley of Alderley, is also of interest here and elsewhere on Anglesey.

Llywelyn ab Iorwerth and Siwan at Trefriw are rare depiction of Welsh national figures in ecclesiastical stained glass, commissioned as appropriate subjects for the church that they reputedly founded in the thirteenth century. As far as I can recall I have not come across images of either of them in any other churches (the medieval grave slab of Siwan rests in the church at Beaumaris of course), and neither have I seen Llywelyn ap Gruffydd or Owain Glyndŵr (but I would be pleased to hear of any). Henry VII, on the other hand, is not so rare. There are reasons for this, such as the Anglicisation of most of the gentry patrons commissioning stained glass, and the preference, naturally enough, for biblical and other religious subjects. But the quality of the glass and the significance of these figures for contemporary Wales, even in a week when a poll has suggested that support for an independent Wales has hit a new low, can be recognised even in a modest work by a little-known Oxford ecclesiastical furnisher. review

See the Welsh Books Council site for a review of the book by Rhidian Griffiths. ‘Much, much more than a coffee-table book.’

Y Cymro

Llawer o ddiolch i J. Graham Jones am ei adolygiad caredig iawn yn Y Cymro yr wythnos ‘ma.

‘Cyfrol hollol fendigedig ei diwyg a’i chynnwys’

Artists and Designers

How do we define the artists responsible for stained glass windows? Very often windows were the product of the collaboration between a number of individuals, often working in large or small studios. This is still the same today, but, just as in the past, some artists are responsible for the design and complete manufacture of a window.

The relationships between those responsible for the design and making of a window are often poorly understood, and frequently the designer of a window has been celebrated in preference to the people who have interpreted their designs in glass, paint and lead. I was therefore interested to read the comments by Neil Moat in his recent review of the book for Vidimus: ‘in a welcome move, the names of executant studios take precedence over designers, except for those windows clearly the handiwork of a single artist.’

This is to say that in their captions, I have described windows as, for example:

Morris & Co., The Adoration of the Shepherds and the Magi, 1898, designed by Edward Burne-Jones

rather than:

Edward Burne-Jones, The Adoration of the Shepherds and the Magi, 1898, Morris & Co.

To choose another famous example, from the last century, windows designed by John Piper are commonly attributed to him, rather than Patrick Reyntiens, a significant artist in his own right, who painted and made them. This all seemed a little suspect to me, when so little credit has been given to cartoonists, glass painters and glaziers (often subsumed under the name of a studio or firm, such as Morris & Co., C.E. Kempe & Co., or more recently in Wales, Celtic Studios). The precedence of the designer as the principal artist is sometimes well-justified, particularly when they actively supervised the making of the windows that they designed, but often we simply do not know the extent to which this was the case. For example, Burne-Jones designed figures and scenes as well as drawing cartoons for windows, but left their production in glass to the studio.

I did give this a lot of thought while writing the book, balancing what is known about larger stained glass studios of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with contemporary practice and my own interviews with artists who had collaborated with others. Other scholars, such as Martin Harrison in his seminal Victorian Stained Glass, also put the name of the studio before that of the designer. In the captions I gave precedence to the maker except in those cases where I judged that the maker was working under the close supervision of the designer as a controlling artist. In some cases I expect that this judgement will be proved wrong as the work of other scholars becomes available or other archives come to light. In some cases I simply failed to find sufficient information, for example I did not find the name of the maker used by Gerald Moira for his windows. Ideally the names of studios/makers and designers should be noted, but in the case of many windows neither are known.

All of this goes to the heart of what the Arts and Crafts Movement was all about, as a response to John Ruskin and to the interpretation of Ruskin’s work by William Morris, which afforded better acknowledgement and appreciation of the role of the craftsman or craftswoman. Even here there are inconsistencies; on p. 167, footnote 5, I quote Paul Thompson, who judged the stained glass production at Morris & Co. as ‘an extreme example of the division of labour’. At the very least attention should be drawn to the skill and ingenuity of the glass painters, studio managers and technicians who turned the vision of designers like Edward Burne-Jones into works of art in glass. In the case of Morris & Co. recent work on the employees of the firm has been published by Tony Benyon in vol. xxxv (2011) of The Journal of Stained Glass.

My thanks to Neil Moat for his observations on the book in Vidimus.

Cambrian News feature

Fun to see a full-page feature in this week’s CQ section in the Cambrian News, illustrated with several windows from the locality. The text and a single image can be found on their website.

CTNW blog review

My thanks to Madeleine Gray, whose review of the book appears on the Churches Tourism Network Wales blog. The Church Tourism Network supports churches in their efforts to keep their buildings open for visitors, and the success of their work is evident in the increasing number of church trails around Wales. For a list of projects and links to other churches that are usually open visit their website.