Exhibition Review: Light in the North: Modern Glass-Painters of York

Monika Adamczak reports.

Fig. 1. A Vase of Flowers by William Peckitt, 1785 (c) Nick Teed.

Fig. 1. A vase of flowers, by William Peckitt, 1785. (c) Nick Teed

The art of staining and painting glass is a vibrant part of York’s culture, both past and present. Stained-glass panels can be admired almost everywhere in York, but the most popular perhaps are the medieval windows, particularly from the Minster. Younger examples of late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century glass are also to be found in various architectural settings in the city, each with its own distinctive style and aesthetic [Fig. 1].

Modern Practice
The Light in the North: Modern Glass-Painters of York exhibition in the Stained Glass Centre (St Martin cum Gregory Church, Micklegate, York) continues the story of York’s stained glass by presenting a rich range of twentieth- and twenty-first century panels. Displayed in chronological order, the exhibits highlight a modern movement in stained glass initiated by the Dean of York, Eric Milner-White. In 1947, he invited Harry Stammers to York; he established a workshop where new generations of artists – Sep Waugh, Harry Harvey and Ann Sotheran – were taught the craft. Skills and practice were passed from master to apprentice, which meant that the craft retained its traditional teaching methods and techniques at a time that other crafts were being modernized, causing some skills and professions to diminish and be lost. At the exhibition, viewers can trace the influence of one glass-painter on another, yet still see the independent styles of each artist.

Fig. 2. ‘The Wrestlers’ by Harry Harvey, c.1950.

Fig. 2. ‘The Wrestlers’ by Harry Harvey, c.1950.

The pieces exhibited show how the artists introduced contemporary aesthetics into a traditional practice, and it was interesting to see how they achieved various effects using the same technique. Harry Stammers’s biblical themes were presented with modern modelling of the figures that echoed the paintings of Georges Braque. His panels acknowledge the past, yet offer a new, fresh interpretation, with vivid colours and energy radiating from the scenes. In contrast to Stammers’s detailed designs, Harry Harvey’s style is simpler and somewhat more straightforward. His figures are thus very expressive and memorable [Fig. 2]. Sep Waugh’s vidimuses show interesting designs executed in a modern manner, but with reference to schemes traditionally typical for stained glass. Ann Sotheran’s works differ from the other exhibits. Her Games and Allium play with perception, and her colour changes within shapes, challenging the contours defining the subjects. Finally, Helen Whittaker’s panels showed a variety of styles, where excellent draughtsmanship and unconventional compositions give a twist to traditional subjects, such as the Expulsion from Paradise.

Life after Manufacture

The exhibition extends the historical perspective of the craft into the future, by presenting complex conservation issues and techniques, and showing how modern conservation skills are being passed to a new generation. In this respect, the eighteenth-century panel depicting a vase of flowers, for which recent conservation treatments were explained, was of particular interest. The panel, conserved in 2013 by a student on the MA in Stained Glass Conservation and Heritage Management at the University of York, was painted by Peckitt – a famous eighteenth-century glass painter, whose works can be admired in various places in York (including the Minster, the Art Gallery, and the Stained Glass Centre), closely connecting it to the exhibition’s theme. Like Stammers, Peckitt is considered to be among those artists whose works greatly contributed to the revival of stained glass during their lifetimes.


Fig. 3. Panels by Harry Stammers and Harry Harvey (c) Megan Stacey.

Fig. 3. Panels by Harry Stammers and Harry Harvey (c) Megan Stacey.

Stained glass creation requires skill, as does the manufacture of materials used to make it: glass, lead and paint. The production of these materials has evolved over the centuries, but little has changed in terms of basic principles. A short film, presented alongside the exhibition, explains both the step-by-step manufacturing processes and stained-glass techniques in an accessible way. The presentation of vidimuses, sketches, cartoons, paintings and stained glass side by side allows constant comparison, but also shows how designs evolve at each stage of the creative process.

The exhibition contributes towards a better understanding of this complex craft and provides a fresh perspective on York’s stained-glass treasures [Fig. 3]. The exhibition was curated and mounted by a volunteer team of history of art students from the University of York, to celebrate the launch of the Friends of the Stained Glass Centre. It will be open 10.00–13.00 on Saturdays until 20 December, when the Centre will also be hosting carol singing, from 5:45pm. For more information, please visit the Stained Glass Centre’s website.

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