HBy The Editor OW often, when you enter a church, do you look at the stained-glass windows? Have you ever asked yourself
how these windows are made and who makes them?
A visit to the upper church of St. Etheldreda's in Ely Place, London, may cause you to look twice at the great east window of Christ the King among the saints. It is colourful, large and striking in design. A close examination of the lower right of the window will disclose the name "los. E. Nuttgens". The name may be otherwise vaguely familiar to you since it appears occasionally under a thoughtful letter in our correspondence columns.
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I N view of the little interest -11most of us take in church glass, I thought it would be interesting to drag Mr. Nuttgens for a moment from his virtual anonymity and his profession of the 'unsung craftsmen who in fact carry out the ancient. technically complex and artistically difficult job of siting the light of the sun to provide beauty, to honour God and the saints, perhaps to point a moral and, after all, to dispel darkness in our churches.
Nuttgens lives a stone's throw away from Pigotts in the Chilterns, the home and sculptural workshop created by Eric Gill. This association is an accident. not an indication that he belongs to the Gill tradition.
Typical of his outlook is the fact that he calls his home and studio "Glasyers". an old way of describing a "worker in glass" just as the lawyer is a "worker in law." This practical approach to what is certainly a branch of thc visual arts—and never considered more so than today—is certainly in the Gill tradition.
THERE are artists who find it pays to looks like the conventional artist. Nuttgens — rough and tumble; a winning smile; many children, a small house, picturesque by nature, not artifice; a large, decrepit family car, usually away being mended— looks the artist because he is an artist. poured out in creative feeling and action. and forgetful of himself.
The house, surrounded by the impedimenta of children of all ages, melts mysteriously within into the workshop, whose high ceiling, gallery and bits of stainedglass plonked here and there or temporarily filling a window, has a religious aura. not disturbed but rather enhanced by the concentration of the three workersNuttgens himself, with his brush painting with a colour that will be fused into the glass; an assistant intent on a jig-saw puzzle of pieceing together and "leading" the pieces of glass, and an apprentice (his own son. aged 16) dexterously cutting glass into required shapes.
IT all seemed an ideal life until one heard of the difficulties.
The artist is the victim of the craftsman. This is no case of a paint-box and a canvas, however large, but of fragile glass in huge quantities, chemicals. lead, and many other complex impedimenta; of preparatory "cartoons" of immense size; of much travelling; of patiently trying to work in with the frustrating plans of others; of complex estimates and costings; of slow, patient, meticulous, exact work.
Nor is there much artistic glory in it. Commissions come mainly from churches of all denominations, the priest, parson, church committee, diocesan authorities— few of them possessing any special artistic taste—laying down the law and the precise requirements which often leave little scope to the artist's own creative faculty and sometimes openly offends it.
STILL, there are compensations even beyond the enjoyment of the work. If not immortality, at least enduring monuments a r e constantly created. for it usually takes a World War to destroy church glass once erected.
After the bombing of the last war, commissions have been plentiful, and modern science and technique offer opportunities of brilliant design and colouring recalling the glories of 13th and 14th century glass.
Mr. Nuttgens and his fellow glasyers in the country, in whose artistic debt so many of us are, without adverting to the fact, may well pray more intensely than others that a third World War will not pulverise their work even more rapidly and assuredly than the rest of the monuments of our times.
MEANWHILE, when you go to church, look at the glass. Not all of it will be very good, but some of it is. And whether good or less good, the devotion and hard work of the "glasyers" of today and yesterday he behind it.