Orchestrations of Colour: The Stained Glass of Douglas Hamilton. By Jeff Hopewell. Paperback, 128 pp., full colour illustrations (The Coplow Press, 2020) £19.95 (incl. P&P). ISBN: 978-1-8380680-0-4
Reviewed by Martin Crampin
Jeff Hopewell first came across cartoons by Douglas Hamilton around twenty years ago, which led to more detailed research into the life and work of the artist over the last ten years. The author acknowledges that Hamilton might not rank among the most important twentieth-century stained glass artists working in Scotland, such as Alf Webster, Douglas Strachan and William Wilson, but was prompted to undertake the study in response to a dearth of published information about the artist. Furthermore, Hopewell was attracted by a particular ‘humanity’ in the work, perceived in the way that figures were depicted, the way that the artist related to the subject matter and those being memorialised, and in the subsidiary scenes of everyday life.
Douglas Hamilton was born in India in 1895, the son of a Scottish Colour Sergeant, and was sent back to live with his aunt in Glasgow following the death of his mother in 1897. By the time of the 1911 census he was an ‘apprentice glass stainer’, based at the studio of Stephen Adam in Glasgow, where he worked with Alf Webster until the First World War. He was also enrolled at Glasgow School of Art, for about a year prior to enlisting to join his father’s regiment in November 1914, and again in 1919–20. Hamilton seems to have spent much of the next decade working at the Stephen Adam Studio, prior to his appointment as studio manager at another Glasgow studio, Guthrie & Wells, in 1929.
Hamilton left Guthrie & Wells and established his own studio in 1938. The first of his windows designed and made in his own studio was dedicated on 6 March 1939, at Cathcart South Church, Glasgow. Further commissions for churches followed throughout the year and into early 1940, and from 1946 until his death in 1959 he made around a hundred windows for Scottish churches, as well as a small number for churches overseas. Hamilton was also a painter and illustrator, although unfortunately none of his works in other media are illustrated in the book, which would have enabled a broader appreciation of the range of his artistic practice.
Since the majority of Hamilton’s windows that have been traced were made for churches in the later 1940s and 50s, the book offers a useful insight into the breadth of subjects popular for ecclesiastical stained glass the period, many of which were war memorials. Figures of the Risen Christ or Christ in Majesty are common, as is David, the apostle Andrew (as patron of Scotland), and Margaret of Scotland. A pair of roundels at Largs depict David as a young man and a scene from later in his life (from II Samuel 23: 13–17, which Hamilton used repeatedly) demonstrate his ability to conjure lively original designs (Fig. 1). The theme of the Beatitudes is adopted for several windows, and some are of more unusual subjects, such as the Calling of Gideon and scenes with local saints. A memorial window at Portree departs from the Bible and local saints and appears to depict a scene from Gaelic legend at the top of the window, with an energetic design depicting a hammer-wielding rider on a black horse with pink and mauve hounds and birds pursuing a couple on a white horse (Fig. 2).
The author is also attentive to the practicalities of commissioning windows and to their dedications, noting a war memorial window at Grahamston United Church, Falkirk, which quotes from Pericles in Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnensian War. The relationships between the subject matter and those who commissioned them are highlighted in several examples, such as the windows commemorating ministers at Crosshouse, Ayrshire, and at Kirkintilloch, Dunbartonshire, where the window is expressive of the minister’s love of ritual and his status as a senior freemason.
A gazetteer details all of the windows by the artist that the author has been able to locate, almost all of which are from churches, as secular work that he undertook remains to be traced. The churches listed are all in Scotland, with the exception of five overseas locations – in Bermuda, Canada, Gibraltar and Malta – whose churches all had Scottish associations, as did a church in Nairobi that he made work for, although the windows were destroyed in 2004.
The book contains over fifty good colour images throughout, a large proportion of which are details, showing Hamilton’s glass to good effect. However, with so much material at the author’s disposal, and with space at a premium, fascinating windows that are described are not illustrated. Similarly, complete designs of windows for which we find details are not provided for reference, such as his early work for Hyndland Church in Glasgow, illustrated in three separate details, and the pair of large and complex two-light windows at Wellpark Mid Kirk, Greenock, represented in the book by a fine detail of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace (Fig. 3), between attractive rectangular painted pieces of streaky glass, as well as seven further details of men at work and individuals in the pursuit of human creativity.
Hopewell includes a chapter on the portrayal of everyday life in Hamilton’s work, and some of these details are among the most striking of the images in the book, such as the labourers in a set of windows constituting a war memorial at Blackridge Parish Church, Lothian, among a number of figures remembering service on the home front during the war (Fig. 4). The powerful and almost abstract form of the quarryman and miner contrasts with the slightly mawkish figures representing the arts at Greenock, and with a few of the biblical figures too, but is mirrored elsewhere, such as in the crumpled figure of Saul shrinking from the vision on the road to Damascus at Kelvinbridge Parish Church in Glasgow.
The depictions of industry and contemporary life are found in the work of other stained glass artists in Scotland. The author cites earlier windows, as well as examples by Hamilton’s younger contemporaries, William Wilson and Sadie McLellan, and fishermen and industrial workers can also be found in a window by Herbert Hendrie dated 1939 and installed in 1940 at Glasgow Cathedral. The illustrations of these themes in Hamilton’s windows opens up comparisons with an expression of similar imagery in stained glass from elsewhere. For example, the work of Howard Martin and Hubert Thomas of Swansea for secular commissions before the war, and post-war ecclesiastical work of their firm Celtic Studios, also occasionally draws upon the industrial imagery of south Wales and the work of regional makers from other industrial areas would be worth exploring in this respect (Fig. 5).
The proximity of foundrymen working at a furnace in the window at Greenock beneath the biblical image of the three Hebrews in the fiery furnace juxtaposes Hamilton’s contemporary world with the stories of the Old Testament. Herbert Hendrie’s window in Glasgow Cathedral carries the title ‘Christ and the World’s Work’ beneath Christ as a carpenter, signifying Christ’s identification with the necessary labour on earth. The inclusion of those engaged in work in Hamilton’s religious windows perhaps embodies his own appreciation of the sanctity of labour, and humanity, in the tapestry of life under heaven.