Stained Glass from Welsh Churches

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An Arts and Crafts Window by Clayton & Bell?

Over the last few months I have been collaborating on a book about the stained glass at the Church of St Peter, Lampeter. The initiative for the book came from John Hammond, an expert on stained glass war memorials, and we have written the book together, with publication funded by the church.

Cover of Stained Glass at the Church of St Peter, Lampeter, with figure by Wilhelmina Geddes.The difference between writing an overview of stained glass in churches and writing a guide that includes all of the windows in the church is that all of the windows need some attention, whether good or bad, and whether or not it is possible to attribute them. In the case of this church, only a few of the windows have signatures, and while the style of some other makers are clear, or have been identified from archives, a handful remained unattributed.

The church does contain a really fine window. The west window is the last monumental work by Wilhelmina Geddes, and the recent biography of the artist by Nicola Gordon Bowe is so detailed that it makes the window perhaps the most comprehensively documented stained glass window in Wales. Since the window contains a figure of the patron of the church, St Peter, it is featured on the cover.

This was the last window added to the church, but the first were windows by Daniel Bell working with Richard Almond in 1870, and also a window that I considered to be by Lavers & Barraud of the same date. Exactly how many of these 1870s windows were also by Daniel Bell (and Richard Almond, with whom he worked until 1875) was uncertain, and given the fact that relatively few windows attributed to Daniel Bell (brother to the better known Alfred Bell) have been published, it has been difficult to make comparisons with other windows by the artist.

Another window that I was particularly keen to attribute was an attractive First World War memorial. The window is more colourful than much contemporary stained glass, and exhibited unusually loose glass painting in a few areas of the background. The window had no makers’ mark that we were able to discern, and we did our best to go through all of the church and diocesan archives that might be able to date or identify the maker of the window. These efforts failed to find even the date of the window, and I thought that I ought to consult a few experts that I knew in case any suggested attributions came to light.

After a couple of conversations by email, I was at least approaching the idea that the window was not the work of an individual artist associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement, but was more likely to be by a larger studio, even if it was a livelier window than the usual output of the period. This was then corroborated by a suggestion from Neil Moat that it was the work of John Clement Bell for Clayton & Bell. Given the character of the other windows that I knew of by the firm from around the time of the First World War, this window was something quite different, and unlike anything else that I could find by the firm published online or in print – not that our libraries are full of illustrations of twentieth-century Clayton & Bell windows.

The only other vaguely comparable window by the firm that I knew of was at Beaumaris: a colourful five-light Crucifixion scene. There wasn’t quite the same freshness of colour and painting here, and the painting of the faces was rather different to that in the Lampeter window. However, when I looked at the painting of the angels above, there did seem to be a greater correspondence with the the faces in the Lampeter window. Surely there was a second glass painter at work here in the Beaumaris window (probably more of course).

Detail of a stained glass window in Lampeter of an angel.

Lampeter window

Detail of a stained glass window in Beaumaris of angels.

Beaumaris window

But the most startling similarity between the two windows was a very tiny detail. Many Clayton & Bell windows, going back well into the nineteenth century, feature little stars that are nonetheless prominent in the design. These two windows also had little stars in the upper parts of the window, and are remarkably similar in execution.

Detail of a stained glass window in Lampeter of stars

Lampeter window

Detail of a stained glass window in Beaumaris of an angel and stars.

Beaumaris window

Was the principal glass painter of the Lampeter war memorial working at Clayton & Bell’s studio when he or she painted it? Can we identify the influence of the Arts and Crafts aesthetic (a controversial idea, let alone a definable one) in the output of Clayton & Bell in the 1910s or 20s? Are there many more windows by Clayton & Bell of the period that remain unidentified because of their dissimilarity to what we expect their windows to look like?

The answers to such questions are known by the very few people who have in-depth knowledge of British twentieth-century ecclesiastical stained glass. And it is with sadness that I have to record that in the time since I corresponded with Neil Moat he died suddenly, so now there is now one fewer.

New book of work by Margaret Rope

In an addition to a post about five months ago I mentioned an upcoming exhibition and book about the work of Margaret Rope.

Margaret Agnes Rope (1882–1953) was born in Shrewsbury and was trained in stained glass at Birmingham School of Art under Henry Payne. Her first major work was for Shrewsbury Cathedral and in September an exhibition about her work opens at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery.

stained glass window of St Francis

Margaret Rope, St Francis, about 1934, Church of St Mary and St Michael, Llanarth, sanctuary apse

The exhibition ‘Heavenly Lights: The Untold Story of Stained Glass Artist Margaret Agnes Rope’ runs from 12 September 2016 to 15 January 2017.

As part of this initiative, Arthur Rope has produced a large-format book of her work with colour illustrations of full windows and details, and a list of her works. It is a considerable achievement, and a reminder of how little has been published on artists of this quality working in stained glass. Faced with a vast gap in developed academic study of the field of stained glass, and art in churches in general, books like this, as well as those by Roy Albutt and Alan Brooks’ study of Francis Spear, have mostly been privately published and rely on the strength of conviction (and financial commitment) of their authors.

These books, from the bottom up, if you like, easily outnumber those from the top down, such as Peter Cormack’s recent Arts and Crafts Stained Glass (2015). This is a book about which I have intended to write on these pages for some time, and may do yet. With such a huge range of material at his disposal, Peter Cormack’s book only illustrates couple of panels and one full window by Margaret Rope and does not have the space to discuss her work in any detail, which ably demonstrates the huge amount of work still to be published on the artists of the Arts and Crafts Movement. There are also those artists and studios earlier in the nineteenth century and later in the twentieth century about whom so little has been written, as well as the contemporaries of Henry Payne and Margaret Rope that have not been connected with the Arts & Crafts ethos, and remain (even) less fashionable.

Margaret Rope of Shrewsbury is announced on its title page as ‘an exhibition of her works in a book’, and since the book lacks a narrative, this is very much the case. Here, the contrast with Nicola Gordon Bowe’s recent book on Wilhelmina Geddes is stark, as her years of research and study have yielded a fascinatingly insightful portrait of the artist offering an absorbing narrative that sheds so much light on the windows.

In the case of Margaret Rope, she left few records, and there is an appeal for more information about her, as well as a team of volunteer archivists gathered by Shrewsbury Museum with the task of researching her life and work. In the meantime, we have a new book of her work, which will be available at the exhibition in September and beforehand via mail order, for details see Arthur Rope’s website.

Dire windows and provincial firms

I have stated elsewhere that Stained Glass from Welsh Churches was not intended as a book of the best stained glass in Wales (and said as much on p. 7 of the introduction). In his review of the book recently published in the Journal of Stained Glass (vol. 38), Peter Cormack goes further, noting the ‘number of feeble or positively dire examples’ that I troubled to include from the later nineteenth and twentieth century, which potentially reinforces a negative view of stained glass that persists among many people. However, negativity, or at least indifference, towards the medium seems more characteristic of art historians than of people in general in my experience. He also claims that the work illustrated reflects ‘the relative poverty of Wales’, and I wonder whether such a claim would have been made if the book had focussed more on high-class works such as big east windows during the same period by Clayton & Bell, Hardman’s, Powell’s and Burlison & Grylls.

In the previous post I quoted another reviewer who commended the ‘even-handedness’ of an inclusive approach to stained glass, and Peter Cormack also praises the inclusion of work by many provincial firms, ‘often for the first time’, in addition to those that are better known. In fact he goes as far as to say that ‘it would be difficult to think of a book that might be more useful to groups such as NADFAS Church Recorders in introducing them to the vast subject of Vicorian and later glass.’ High praise indeed.

stained glass window

Seward & Co., The Good Shepherd, c.1923, Church of St Mor and St Deiniol

stained glass window

Edward Woore, The Good Shepherd, 1926, Church of St Mary, Cwrt Henri

There are certainly windows in the book that are poor but which demonstrated something I wanted to convey, and there are others that I couldn’t bring myself to include. There are certainly several in the chapter on late nineteenth-century memorial windows and saddest of all is perhaps the Good Shepherd by A. Seward & Co. of Lancaster which was included to point up the originality of the work of Mary Lowndes and (particularly) Edward Woore in the following chapter on the Arts and Crafts Movement. But my choice of themes for certain chapters was deliberately chosen to include work by lesser known makers, good and bad. Somewhere there will be a window by Seward & Co. that is genuinely cherished by a congregation unaware of my opinions or those of Peter Cormack. They would be probably be interested to know more about the maker and about other windows that the studio made, and these people need books about stained glass as well as art historians primarily interested, for good reasons, in the best that our culture has produced. There is also another reason why the photograph of the Good Shepherd by Seward & Co. was chosen for the book. It is in a church that has long been closed and may never be accessible to the public again, if indeed it survives.

The review in the Journal of Stained Glass is followed by another positive review of my little book on the stained glass at the Church of St Mary, Tenby, which adds some further useful detail on the architect J.D. Coleridge, who advised the rector on the commissioning of Karl Parsons. Interestingly, Peter Cormack notes the probability that Edward Woore assisted Karl Parsons with the war memorial window at Tenby.

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.

Banner image

Readers may be interested in the banner image that I have chosen for this blog. It is a detail of an angel from the east window at the Church of All Saints, Porthcawl, by Karl Parsons, and this angel, and another facing the opposite direction, are used on the inside jacket flaps of the book.

After looking at the book sometimes people have asked me whether I have any favourites, and stained glass such as this from the 1920s and 30s by artists influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement is certainly among the best that I have come across. This large window by Karl Parsons was a memorial to a son lost in the First World War, made in 1927 with Leonard Potter.

These angels are quite high in the window, and hard to see easily from the body of the church. In many cases I have illustrated details of windows that are not always easy to see from below, and thereby ‘bring them back down’ into our consciousness. The extraordinary attention to detail in glass like this certainly repays the scrutiny of binoculars or a zoom lens.