Monday, 31 August 2009

Laurence Whistler and etched glass

Funny how one thing leads to another. Some time ago I visited the lovely little church of Saint Nicholas at Moreton in Dorset. I’d gone in particular to see the etched glass windows by Laurence Whistler.

They are quite distinctive, being clear glass with the delicate etching standing out like white tracery. So when I came across another, miles away, I at once recognised the style and felt quite the historian.

The church at Moreton was originally built about 1400. Like most old buildings it has changed over the centuries being rebuilt more than once, the last time in 1776. The colourful stained glass windows were destroyed in 1940 when a bomb fell in the churchyard. In 1950 Laurence Whistler (1912-2000) was invited to submit designs to replace them.

Originally five were installed but as time went by funds were found or donated to add more. Now all twelve windows have been designed and installed and quite a stunning effect they create. Of course engraved glass was an old, traditional craft, but Whistler's revival of the art form is quite magnificent in its scope.

His style reminds me a bit of John Piper’s spidery sketchy lines. He was after all a contemporary of his. The theme of the windows design is Light – physical and spiritual – such as candlelight, starlight or sunlight. Even lightening is included! The designs include metaphor and emblems of either seasons, festivals or bible stories.

Others commemorate someone’s life (the church is close to an old wartime air base) or a happier event. Some are landscapes, a few mystical scenes, but all are beautifully and originally worked. Unfortunately, I can't track down my photos of the windows so please do look them up on the web.

We are so used to seeing the bright jewel colours of stained glass in windows that it is quite a surprise to enter a church where the glass is clear. The result is an interior flooded with light and a feeling of openness and modernity. Quite refreshing.

Whistler was a writer and poet as well as an artist and it seems to me that he combined both the poetic and the artistic in his window designs. The sensitivity of the designs suits the subjects so well.

Anyway, when visiting Stowe in Buckinghamshire, we crept into the small (rather spoiled architecturally) church in the gardens. Although it has been messed about with there are still some very interesting effigies and fascinating memorials there. Investigating every crook and cranny I was very excited when I noticed a tiny pane of glass with some etching on.

The style looked familiar and finding a bit written about it I was thrilled that my hunch was right: it was by Laurence Whistler! He had been to school at Stowe. Just goes to show, one thing can lead to another.


PS There is also a Whistler engraved window in Salisbury Cathedral: I don’t know if there are any more.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Butterflies Flutterby

There is something very cheering about a butterfly fluttering past me in the garden. It’s such a simple thing - such a transitory thing – yet I instantly feel better. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that they arrive with the sunshine.

They are not about too early in the day, nor too late in the afternoon. Like dragonflies, they need the warmth of the sun before they become active. Sheltered spaces are what they like best and they’re particularly attracted to some garden plants. Buddleias are not known as ”the butterfly bush” for nothing, whilst herbs such as marjoram and lots of perennials such as Sedum spectabile can attract every butterfly in the place.

Today, turning around after hanging up a bed sheet on the washing line I was amazed to see a large black butterfly had settled on it. I was surprised, firstly because I would have thought it would have chosen a background to match its colour and, secondly, because it opened its wings to reveal that it was in fact a beautifully coloured Peacock.

Butterflies have all round vision and yet I could stand quite close to this one and it didn’t move. It also very obligingly stayed put for long enough for me to get my camera. The beautifully crimped edges of its wings could be really appreciated when they were folded because they stood out against the white of the sheet like the profiled silhouette of a cameo.

Oddly enough, we’re warned that as many species of butterfly are at risk as ever, and yet there seems to be more butterflies in the garden this year. I suspect that it has something to do with the profusion of blossom that I’ve already written about.

In April there were lots of Orange-tips in those areas of the garden with meadow grass, especially around the pond. But they were not about long. Apparently they only have one generation because once their meadow flower food source no longer blooms their pantry is bare.

At the time the butter yellow Brimstone kept it company. Although they do have a second generation which hatches in July and August so they are still about now. Following them were a mass of Browns. I should like to think that some of them were rare Heath fritillaries but I find it almost impossible to identify the profusion of little Browns, they're so quick to make off.

I’m OK at telling the difference between the showier garden species – the Red Admiral, Tortoiseshell, Comma and Peacock - but many others are a mystery to me. The Whites are similarly confusing, with the exception perhaps of the Cabbage white because we have so many of those. And I have exactly the same trouble with the Blues.

Was that a Common blue or a Holly blue? A Short-tailed or a Long-tailed blue? The trick is obviously to know all about their habitat but that needs quite a bit of study. Many blues do like a chalky habitat and as my garden is on clay I tend to have more browns.

The only brown butterflies I have time to identify are those poor insects that die in my conservatory. The floor is littered with their corpses. I only hope I’ve left enough weeds and wildflowers out there for them to lay their eggs on. That may salve my conscious. And I shall make sure I leave their caterpillars a larder for next year. I really look forward to butterflies fluttering by.