Much of our time is spent working in, on and around churches and one of the added benefit’s of this is (occasionally) being able to spend a little time viewing and appreciating the work of other stained glass craftsmen and women who’s work across the decades brings these buildings to life. This is doubly so when we come across the work of an artist we have either not seen first hand before or of whom we were completley unaware of.
This happened recently while undertaking a condition report on behalf of St. Peter’s, Quernmore, a small rural church near Lancaster. The church has a number of stained glass windows from the Victorian and Edwardian periods, much of which was produced by the pre-eminent Lancaster firm Shrigley and Hunt. However one of the churches windows in particular stood out having caught my eye with it’s strong design and use of colour. And so was my introduction to the stunningly beautiful work of John Hayward.
Viewed from a distance, I must admit my first impression was that the use of lead structure and paint were perhaps a little heavy – making it difficult to discern form or figure. It’s this initial obscurity however that invites the viewer in to take a closer look and in doing so, Haywards mastery of the craft is revealed.
The window was produced in 1959 and depicts Christs descent from the cross. It’s style is modern and graphic (both in terms of the heavy lead matrix and linear paint-work) and while undeniably original, coupled with the bold use of strong colours and slender, almost ghost-like figures, brings to mind elements of Harry Clarke. However it’s Haywards magical use of background texture and incidental form, built up through his masterful use of paint, that really sets his work apart and elevates it above most others for me.Take a minute to study this in the upper areas of the windows head sections where subtle layers of matte, sharp intersecting lines, spatters and splotches create a rich geological texture. It reminds me of some of the less unhinged, more detailed works of the illustrator Ralph Steadman and despite approaching nearly 60 years of age, looks so refreshingly contemporary, it could have been produced yesterday.
It was only on my return to the studio and having searched for further information on John Hayward that the extent of his prolific career was revealed to me. I was also made aware that we had in fact only this year been working in close proximity to a number of high profile works in both stained glass and metal sculpture by the artist at Blackburn Cathedral. Unfortunately, during a busy working day on site, time does not always allow you to stop and appreciate whats around you!
Born in 1929, Hayward passed away in 2007 at the age of 77 but left a huge legacy of almost 200 windows in churches and cathedrals across the UK and abroad. He is widely considered as one of the most distinguished post-war practitioners who’s bold style makes his work (to those familiar with it) instantly recogniseable. There is little biographical detail about the artist himself with the exception of the following obituary: http://boards.ancestry.co.uk/surnames.hayward/635/mb.ashx
It’s perhaps most fitting to finish this post with this passage by the man himself in describing his approach and influences:
“Most of my designs for glass use figures in “landscapes” in much the same way as heraldry uses signs and symbols on “fields” – as a language for expressing ideas. The traditional techniques of fired paint and stain are used in particular way to direct the natural, often seductive, eloquence of raw glass to make images with precise meanings. This seems to result in windows in which people, finding themselves on what looks like familiar ground, are able to find different levels of meaning.”