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.


Anonymous said...

One more window at Checkendon church - but the Moreton ones best. Glad to find another devotee. I became fscinated by this man after reading 'The Initials in the Heart'

June Jackson said...

I visited Salisbury Cathedral yesterday and spent some time looking at Laurence Whistler's beautiful engraved Prism which is dedicated to his brother Rex Whistler. There are also Whistler engravings dedicated to two women who apparently died in tragic circumstances hanging beside the organ.
I believe there is an engraved window in the church at Alton Barnes in Wiltshire where Whistler lived before he died.
Your blog is lovely, I must visit Moreton Church.

Anonymous said...

Laurence Whistler's windows are not etched but engraved.

It is a shame that so few of the galleries that have examples of his work understand that it has to be displayed against black velvet, with icy light carefully angled so that the glass disappears and the image floats free.

He was a great man and a great artist.

Jim McCue

Stella said...

There is a beautiful Whistler window in Checkendon Church.

Teresa K said...

There are two Whistler windows in the church at Hannington, near Tadley in Hampshire. I had never heard of him until visiting the church today but will now make an effort to see some of the others.

Anonymous said...

You are missing his greatest work (I think) which is the reredos screen in Sherborne Abbey, Dorset. Also on YouTube you can see one of his remarkable works ~ an engraved bowl rotating, showing as it turns a house happy and occupied, razed by fire and then rebuilt. Odd that few people remember his poetry, though, as SOME of his works are great pieces of writing.

Anonymous said...

Last night I went to Moreton Church to hear Daniel Whistler talk and show slides of his father's work. The incredible 3 dimensionalaspect of his work came alive when we saw the slides of his goblets which were designed to be 'looked through'.
It was also lovely to have Whistler fleshed out with information about his life and in the presence of his son who was charming. The awful shelf like pews were pergatory but worth it. Not least seeing the church andit's windows lit up at night was magical and a lovely way to see the glass.