Lightworks inspiring visit to a Greater Manchester church to view stunning collection of original stained glass windows by Harry Clarke.
With their unmistakably stylised slender figures, beautifully drawn detailing and aesthetic use of lead-work to create form, Harry Clarke’s stained glass windows are urguably amongst some of the finest ever created. Widely considered as one of THE masters of early twentieth century stained glass, his work through his own Dublin based Harry Clarke Studio’s (formerly J. Clarke & Sons), and Sarah Purser’s collaborative studio An Túr Gloine (Tower of Glass) would confirm Ireland’s status as one of the worlds foremost centres of excellence in the craft.
Having discovered that the church of St. Oswald & St. Edmund in Ashton-in Makerfield, Nr Wigan in the north west of England is almost entirely glazed in Clarke glass and within an hours drive of our studio, I had to take some time out to spend an afternoon there.
The images above are of the seven windows contained within the churches sanctuary and, of the full collection of twenty or so windows by Harry Clarke Studio’s at St. Oswald’s, are the ones directly attributed to Clarke himself (the remainder completed by the studio after his death in 1931). While the images I took provide a reasonably good representation, to fully appreciate the vibrancy of colour, control of light and dimensional depth, the windows have to be viewed in person. Clarke is referred to as “Ireland’s Strangest Genius” and having seen their inherent otherwordly-ness in the flesh, it is entirely obvious why. A particular example of this was that I found a number of them looked to be three dimensional; the central figures appearing to float almost magically in front of their respective backgrounds – an optical phenomenon I have personally never before seen when viewing stained glass. Featuring in order, when viewed internally from left to right: St. John the Evangelist, St. Clare, St. Ita, St. Juliana Falconieri, St. Paschal Baylon, St. Catherine of Siena & St. Tarcisius, in terms of artistry, originality of design and style, I personally found them to be inspirational beyond comparison.
Massively prolific throughout his short lifetime, with over 160 windows directly attributed to him, Clarke was only 41 when he died; the continuous exposure to the toxic chemicals and lead used in the production of glass thought to have directly contributed to his early demise. This fact seems all the more poignant when viewing St. Oswald & St. Edmund’s collection in the knowledge that Clarke himself never got to complete them.
Both the seven originals featured here and the remaining windows completed after his death (one of which was perhaps my personal favourite and will feature in a follow up article to this), are a little known about tour-de-force of the arts and crafts movement and stained glass craftsmanship and one I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to see and photograph first hand.
Our thanks to Father Brian Newns for both his time and knowledge.