A Vision Fulfilled: The story of Celtic Studios and Swansea’s architectural glass tradition, by Maurice Broady (ed. Elspeth Broady and Alun Adams), hardback, 164 pages, including 20 pages of full colour in the centrespread and numerous b&w illustrations, 29.5 x 24 x 1.5cm, West Glamorgan Archive Service, Swansea 2012, £28.
This is an attractive and well-designed book that tells the intermeshed stories of Wales’ first stained-glass firm, Celtic Studios of Swansea, and the Swansea School of Arts and Crafts, the forerunner of today’s Architectural Glass Centre at Swansea Metropolitan University.
Celtic Studios was formed in 1948 by Howard Martin (1907–1972) and his cousin Hubert Thomas (1913–1995), who had lived with the Martin family since he was seven. For over forty years, the firm produced a steady stream of windows in what can loosely be called a conservative Arts and Crafts style for churches in England and Wales, and well as in locations further afield, such as Canada. The origins of the studio lie in 1934, when the two men set up their first firm together, surviving mainly on domestic commissions from private home owners or local builders. Martin was the chief designer, Thomas the managing director. Public work included a panel for a fishmonger’s shop and a series of windows in the art deco style on the theme of footballers for the Directors’ Room at Swansea City’s former stadium at Vetch Field. (The stadium was demolished in 2011.) When war was declared in 1939, the firm was dissolved. Thereafter Thomas used his design skills as a draughtsman working for the British Aircraft Company, while Martin was excused military service on medical grounds and began to teach stained glass at the School of Art, where both men had trained as students; he had run an evening class in stained glass at the College since 1935.
The rebirth of the partnership after the war as Celtic Studios gave a new platform for their business. One of the pluses of this volume is the way it incorporates the practical into the artistic, discussing matters usually ignored, such as rates of pay in the workshop, problems of competition from other firms, and how clients paid for windows. In every instance the owners saw themselves primarily as artists working with stained glass. An amusing aside on p. 24 sums up their stance: when a government inspector ordered them to display a copy of the Factory Act in their workshop, Thomas retorted that it was not a factory but a studio!
More practical issues surface in chapter 4, which discusses the firm’s ecclesiastical work and some of the pitfalls it faced. By far their biggest client was the Anglican Church in Wales, but such patronage could be double-edged, bringing difficulties as well as joy. When a new east window was installed at the parish church of St Margaret at Crynant (formerly Glamorgan, now Neath Port Talbot) they placed their names and those of the designer (Howard Martin) and workmen (Hubert Thomas and Bryan Evans) in a small panel at the foot of the window. At the time they believed they were acting in accordance with a Care of Churches recommendation, which had urged that the names of designers etc., should be included in works of art, but when a visiting bishop saw the panel he protested that it was tantamount to advertising. Terrified of upsetting him and jeopardising their future business, Hubert Thomas wrote a self-abasing letter offering to remove the panel. It was allowed to remain.
From the least the mid-1950s, the fortunes of Celtic Studios were mixed. Interest in abstract designs and greater commercial pressures ensured that it never became one of the ‘big boys’ in the industry. Howard Martin died in 1972, and twenty years later the elderly Hubert Thomas suffered a stroke; the studio closed its doors forever. Celtic Studios left two legacies: the first an impressive body of work, much of which deserves to be better known and which will now surely become so, thanks to Martin Crampin’s excellent colour photographs in this book. The second legacy is ongoing: the Architectural Glass Centre at Swansea University, which owes much to the efforts of Howard Martin, who became head of architectural stained glass and vice-principal of the then Swansea School of Arts and Crafts in 1962. Apart from telling the story of the studio, the book also contains a useful appendix listing all the windows made by the studio.
A word about the author. Maurice Broady had what can best be described as a passion for stained glass and Celtic Studios. Although he died before this book was finished, it has been steered to publication by his daughter, ably assisted by Alun Adams, the Director of the Architectural Glass Centre, and Kay Hollis, the West Glamorgan County Archivist. Broady would have been delighted by the result.