British Society of Master Glass Painters Summer Lecture

The BSMGP Summer Lecture will take place on Friday 19 June, opening at 6.15pm for a prompt 6.45pm start. The lecture will be given by Peter Cormack MBE, FSA, Hon FMGP, and is entitled ‘Exploring Arts and Crafts in Stained Glass: a 40 year Adventure in Light and Colour’.

This summer will see the publication of Peter Cormack’s book Arts & Crafts Stained Glass (Yale University Press) – the first comprehensive account of stained glass produced by members of the Arts & Crafts Movement in Britain, Ireland and USA from the 1880s to the 1950s. In the lecture, the author will discuss and illustrate some aspects of his forty years of research in the field. In the 1970s, stained glass was scarcely recognized as a major field of Arts & Crafts activity, so he set about the task of re-establishing its importance and researching the lives and work of its most important exponents. Working as a curator at the William Morris Gallery in London, Cormack organized the first ever exhibitions devoted to Christopher Whall (1849–1924), Henry Holiday (1839–1927), Paul Woodroffe (1875–1954) and Karl Parsons (1884–1934), as well as a pioneering exhibition of work by women stained-glass artists. These and their accompanying catalogues, along with lectures and BSMGP conference tours, gradually brought about a new appreciation of the rich and diverse heritage of Arts & Crafts stained glass.

Arts & Crafts Stained Glass

Arts & Crafts Stained Glass

The lecture will provide a broad survey of the topics examined in detail in the new book, beginning with the Arts & Crafts reaction to late-Victorian developments in the aesthetics and practice of stained glass, in particular the debased historicism and commercial methods of the large firms. Among the pioneers of this critical view were Henry Holiday, Selwyn Image and H. A. Kennedy. Their example and polemical writings inspired Christopher Whall, who soon became the pre-eminent representative of a distinctively Arts & Crafts approach to the medium. By the 1890s, a new school of stained-glass artist-makers, led by Whall and including Mary Lowndes, Louis Davis and Reginald Hallward, had emerged to challenge the supremacy of the big manufacturers. Artistic regeneration went hand in hand with technical innovations, especially the making of new types of glass (notably the types of ‘slab’ and other textured glass produced from the 1880s onwards), which had a formative impact on design and workmanship.

Other major themes are the careers of women in stained glass, for this was the one area within the Arts & Crafts Movement where women and men truly worked alongside each other and achieved parity of status and achievement – an important advance made possible by reforms in the art education system. The teaching of Christopher Whall, Henry Payne and others are part of this story, showing how generations of young students absorbed the idealistic Arts & Crafts philosophy promulgated in Whall’s 1905 book Stained Glass Work. That philosophy fundamentally changed the course of stained-glass history, not only in Britain and Ireland, but also in the USA.

Fig.2. Stained Glass Work

Stained Glass Work

The generation of women and men trained by Whall and his followers became the leading designers of the first half of the twentieth century, and many were among the founding members and fellows of the British Society of Master Glass Painters. During his years of work on the subject, Cormack was fortunate to meet and interview some of the last representatives of the Arts & Crafts tradition, whose insights and recollections have informed his research.

This lecture will explore how stained glass offers a new way of looking at the Arts & Crafts movement, for the medium relies – arguably more than any other – on a complete and successful fusion of its aesthetic and technical aspects.

Date: Friday 19 June
Venue: The Art Workers Guild, 6 Queen Square, London WC1N 3AT
Cost: admission and optional buffet supper by ticket only; visit the website of the British Society of Master Glass Painters for details, to download a booking form or to book on-line.

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