Author Archives: sgmcurator

Celebration of the acquisition

On Saturday 9 April 2016, The Stained Glass Museum held an evening celebration to mark the recent acquisition of four stained glass panels by Geoffrey Clarke (1924-2014) and their completed installation. The event took place in the south transept of Ely Cathedral beginning with a reception and talks, followed by a private view in the Stained Glass Museum. Dr Loyd Grossman, Friend and supporter of the Stained Glass Museum, was our special guest.

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Left to right: Dr Jasmine Allen, Curator, The Stained Glass Museum; Elizabeth Stazicker , Chairman of The Stained Glass Museum Trust; and Dr Loyd Grossman.

After a wine reception, guests were welcomed by the Museum’s Chairman of Trustees, Elizabeth Stazicker and the Museum’s Curator, Jasmine Allen, who gave a brief introduction to the history of the acquisition, which had begun with the Museum’s former Curator visiting the late Geoffrey Clarke’s studio in 2009.

Some years had passed since these initial talks, but after Jasmine had visited the works in June 2013 it was clear they were special pieces which revealed Geoffrey Clarke’s importance as a stained glass artist and demonstrated the more experimental side of 20th century British stained glass. And so a fundraising appeal ‘The Geoffrey Clarke Stained Glass Appeal’ was launched, and after generous donations from individuals and a number of grant-giving bodies, the works were purchased in January 2014. Sadly, Geoffrey Clarke passed away a few months later on 30 October 2014, just a month away from his 90th birthday.

After specialist conservation of the panels, the installation, interpretation and display of the panels was complete by January 2016. Many individuals and organisations had helped along the way to purchase, conserve and display the artworks and Jasmine thanked them all, but in particular Geoffrey Clarke’s son Jonathan Clarke, who continues in his father’s footsteps as a successful sculptor, and Dr Judith LeGrove, the leading expert on Clarke’s artwork which encompassed prints, stained glass and sculpture.

Jasmine then introduced guests to our programme of short introductory talks, the first of which was on Clarke’s artistic career by Dr Judith LeGrove, Art Historian and author of Geoffrey Clarke: A Decade of Change (2013) and Geoffrey Clarke Printmaker: A Sculptor’s Prints (2012). Judith gave us a fantastic overview of Clarke’s artistic output in a variety of media, highlighting his major commissions, patrons and successes. The talk left us with a better understanding of the artistic and social context in which the stained glass artworks now belonging to the Museum were made, and drew attention to key themes and forms which appear across Clarke’s art in all media.

Following this, Nick Teed ACR (Senior Conservator) from York Glaziers Trust gave an overview of the conservation of these four artworks, explaining the challenges that the materials and structure of the artworks prevented to conservators and the approach taken by them which was minimum intervention. The conservation of Priest, which you can read more about on this blog, provided a very interesting case study. Merlyn Griffiths, the conservator who had worked on this panel, was in the audience, and many guests enjoyed hearing more about the conservation of this panel in the gallery following the talk.

Dr Loyd Grossman then gave a short speech in which he remarked on his own impressions of the significance of these artworks and their place within the context of the history of stained glass, which is so wonderfully illustrated by the Museum’s galleries. He encouraged guests to enjoy looking at the display and to show their support of the Museum by joining its Friends organisation.

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Dr Loyd Grossman (second from left) with the Museum’s Curator Dr Jasmine Allen, and our speakers Nick Teed, ACR and Dr Judith LeGrove

Finally, our appetite whetted, guests feasted both eye and palette by ascending the steps to view the artworks in the Museum gallery as well as enjoying the buffet. A fantastic night was had by all.

The new Geoffrey Clarke artworks are now on display for all to enjoy, together with a temporary exhibition which explores these modern panels through photographs, original sketch designs and information about the conservation of the panels.

‘Geoffrey Clarke (1924-2014): A New Spirit in Stained Glass’ runs until October 2016.

 

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Installation of the new panels

 

After conservation at York Glaziers Trust was complete, plans to display the newly acquired artworks in the Museum’s gallery gathered apace. Due to the unusual three-dimensional nature of these artworks, all of them required specially-constructed display frames.

Neil Wilton, of IWF Ltd, who have made bespoke frames and lighting systems for stained glass at a number of venues including the Victoria & Albert Museum and York Minster, designed and manufactured these frames. Having visited the artworks in York Glaziers Trust conservation studio, discussed the structure and support required to hold them in place, and taken accurate measurements, the bespoke frames were made and finished with a powder-coated black matt paint. Neil delivered the frames to the Stained Glass Museum on a hot summer day, and explained how the fixings held the panels securely, and how they should be installed.

Above: Neil Wilton delivering the frames to the Museum and explaining how they should be installed.

 

Approval from Ely Cathedral Fabric Advisory Committee (FAC) was needed to install the frames, as the installation involved some drilling into the concrete screed floor. This was noisy but speedy work. The frames were firmly bolted to the floor by employees from Messenger Construction Ltd, who, it turned out, had also helped install the Museum’s display cases when the Museum relocated to the south triforium in 1999. To ensure maximum stability and prevent any movement, the freestanding frames were then fixed to the display cabinets at either side with cables at the top.

 

The frame for St Anthony, which was being installed at a height of more than 2.5m above the display cabinets, required a scaffold tower to put in place.

Above: The installation of the frames 

In just 2 hours one Saturday morning all the frames were in place and ready to hold the artworks. Once we had taken some photographs and admired them, they were safely cordoned off to prevent damage to either the frames or visitors!

 

Installing the artworks

In December 2015 Glaziers from M C Lead Glaziers, who were on-site installing recently conserved windows in the south transept of Ely Cathedral, kindly agreed to install both Fragment and St Anthony. The weighty Fragment, which uses much sheet lead, required two strong people to carry and fit it. We erected the scaffold tower again to install St Anthony and the team of three glaziers expertly handled and fitted the panel into its frames.

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M C Lead Glaziers installing St Anthony

The big reveal came when we switched the lights on – and, for the first time in over forty years, we could see the depth and range of blue tones in the panel. Given the panel is plated in several areas, and heavily painted, it required a strong LED light and we were delighted with the results.

Above: 1. Detail of St Anthony showing plating on reverse of the panel 2. St Anthony llluminated

The frames for Priest and St Sebastian were both originally designed so that they could be seen from the back as well as the front. Once the panels had been installed it was clear that there was not enough natural light to really appreciate them as stained glass artworks. So we decided to go ahead and install LED lights behind them, which meant the reverse of the artworks was no longer entirely visible, but that the artworks could be properly appreciated from the front as intended.

Above: Priest and St Sebastian installed without LED lighting

After some careful design adaptations LED panels were incorporated into the frames and the back-lighting has enabled a much greater appreciation of Clarke’s artworks. St Sebastian was the most tricky of all to install as it required three people – one to carefully hold the panel in place, while the other two carefully fitted the glass display case around it (without leaving any fingerprints!)

In their new frames, the panels provide a refreshing and stimulating addition to the gallery. Since the display was completed in January 2016, the artworks and their frames have attracted much attention from visitors. and we are sure that they will continue to do so!

 

 

 

New plans for displaying the Geoffrey Clarke panels

Whilst conservation work is ongoing at York Glaziers Trust, in Ely we are making plans to display the Geoffrey Clarke RA (1924-2014) stained glass panels at the Stained Glass Museum in bespoke frames. The Museum’s Curator, Dr Jasmine Allen, fills us in on plans to develop the gallery to incorporate these innovative stained glass panels into the Museum’s permanent display.

The Context

Our main gallery is located in the south triforium of Ely Cathedral. It is a long narrow space, fitted with specially constructed display cabinets containing our permanent display of stained glass. The 125 panels on display are illuminated by both LED and fluorescent lighting. The permanent collection is arranged chronologically, from the medieval glass dating to 1200 through to our most modern works of the twenty-first century.

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The Stained Glass Museum Gallery showing the permanent display cases.

Because of the unique three-dimensional nature and size of the stained glass panels by Geoffrey Clarke which we have just acquired, it has been necessary to explore alternative methods of display which are more suitable to these modern works. After a meeting with the Curator and a visit to York Glaziers Trust to see the panels we asked Neil Wilton, of IWF Ltd, to draw up some design proposals to display these panels in our small gallery space.

Proposed Plans for Display

Below are some CAD (Computer-aided design) drawings which show proposed plans for displaying the panels at various points along the gallery. All of the panels will be placed in inert metal frames which will support and protect the panels whilst conforming to 21st-century museum standards.

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An impression of the four stained glass panels as they may look in the Stained Glass Museum Gallery © IWF Ltd

St Anthony is a long horizontal panel made using traditional techniques of leaded flat glass. Its large size and horizontal format requires support and the plan to install it above one of our fixed cabinets will support the panel’s weight and make maximum use of wall space in the gallery. The panel will be artificially lit from behind by a state-of-the-art LED panel. Although St Anthony will be positioned at a height above most of our stained glass panels on display, visitors will obtain an unobstructed view of the whole panels from the modern section at the west end of the gallery.

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A CAD drawing showing Fragment installed in a freestanding frame in between display cabinets. © IWF Ltd

The three smaller panels, Fragment, Priest, and Saint Sebastian, are all all three-dimensional panels which will not fit into our permanent display cases. In order to place them on display, and make focal points of the panels, we intend to display them as freestanding panels, fixed to the floor, and placed in between our permanent display cases. Displayed in this way the panels will be illuminated by natural light from the plain glazed windows of the triforium, with the additional option of artificial LED spotlights during the winter.

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CAD impression of the freestanding panels in the gallery © IWF Ltd

Furthermore, this freestanding display will enable circumnavigation of our panels so that visitors can see them from all angles. This will provide a new viewing experience in the gallery. Visitors will be able to see panels like Priest and Fragment from the front and the back, enabling a greater understanding of the composition, structure and facture of the panels.

These initial plans for displaying the Geoffrey Clarke stained glass panels have been approved by the Museum’s Trustees and we are currently awaiting further details about the specifications, fixing mechanisms and cost of manufacturing the frames.

We anticipate that we need to raise a further £2,100 to protect and put these panels on permanent display in the Museum gallery. Please consider making a donation to our appeal.

How to Donate:

Online: http://stainedglassmuseum.com/geoffreyclarkeappeal.html 

By cheque: Cheques should be made payable to ‘The Stained Glass Museum’, and posted to: The Stained Glass Museum, The South Triforium, Ely Cathedral, Ely, CB7 4DL.

By debit/credit card: Please phone The Stained Glass Museum shop on 01353 660347 to make a donation towards the acquisition of these panels by Geoffrey Clarke by debit or credit card.

In person: Fill out a donation form at The Stained Glass Museum.

For more information contact Dr Jasmine Allen, curator@stainedglassmuseum.com

Geoffrey Clarke Obituary

Geoffrey Clarke RA (28 November 1924 – 30 October 2014)

Geoffrey Clarke was a pioneer in a golden age of British sculpture and his fearless experimentation with new materials and processes saw him create works that epitomise the vibrancy of the post-war British art scene.

Click the following links to read obituaries as published in the British press:

The Guardian6 November 2014.

The Telegraph, 11 November 2014.

The Independent, 19 November 2014.

Fragment: a focal point, in focus

Fragment (1956-59): Initial Investigations and Conservation Objectives

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Fragment before conservation, seen in transmitted light.

 History and Description:

Bold, robust and distinctive, Fragment is a stand out piece of Clarke’s early open-cast abstract relief work in aluminium and glass.  The piece was cast in shape with multiple elements used to create a deep impression into a bed of sand, with molten metal poured into the mould in order to form the peculiar aluminium frame structure and protruding tubes.

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This image shows the complex sculptural composition of the piece. The upper green piece of glass is loose and requires stabilising. The adhered lead has a layer of corrosion product forming.

The sweeping blocks of layered glass inserts combine harmoniously with the dense metal composite, enticing the viewer to look more closely at how the piece was made.  Fragment is characteristic of Clarke’s work of this period, in being imbued with religious and symbolic imagery.  The work was created by request of Hugh Casson, architect and interior designer, to provide a focal point to a room setting ‘instead of a fireplace’, and was intended to form part of Flat ’56, an exhibition of wallpapers and fabrics early that year.[1]

In the development of Clarke’s works in glass, Fragment represents an important stage between his mosaics (1949-55) and fully three dimensional works in aluminium and glass for Ipswich Civic College (1961), Crownhill Parish Church (1961), Taunton Crematorium (1963) and Manchester College of Art (1969).  Following the damage and subsequent disappearance of companion sculptural piece Embryo, Fragment now constitutes the sole surviving example of Clarke’s work in aluminium and glass in this style.

Fragment was one of six pieces that Clarke presented in the ‘British Artist Craftsman’ exhibition organised by the Smithsonian Institute, which toured the United States of America in 1959-60.  It was toured again and exhibited in ‘The Pleasures of Peace’ exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, UEA, Norwich, in 1999.

 Condition:

After initial research, a closer investigation into the piece’s current condition was undertaken.  A detailed observation highlighted areas of the piece that may require focused conservation treatment.  This analysis formed the basis for a condition report and conservation proposal.

Overall, the piece is in a relatively good and stable condition, particularly considering the endurance of physical stresses and changing environmental conditions after extensive touring.  It appears that the panel has encountered no previous restorations or repair work, thus the pieces is entirely original and of the artist’s intention.

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A magnified image of the lead carbonate blooming on the surface.

Whilst structurally sound, there are a number of key features to address with regards to conservation treatment.  Firstly, there are two pieces of glass on the interior surface that are loose and becoming detached from their original setting.  Without intervention these pieces could weaken further and become damaged or lost, impacting upon the integrity of the composition. Secondly, the aluminium frame and adhered lead strips show early signs of a corrosion product forming that could cause the metal elements to deteriorate further if left untreated. Thirdly, dirt and dust particles have become caught in-between some layers of glass.  As well as having a detrimental visual effect, this may cause microbiological growth that could impact upon the future preservation of the piece.  The conservation effort will be key in increasing the longevity of the artwork, as well as ensuring that it is displayed as intended, to intrigue and fascinate the onlooker.

Preparing for Conservation:

Fragment is due to be treated at the York Glazier’s Trust studio within the next few weeks.  The conservation approach will support the future preservation and maintain the artistic integrity of the piece.  The next blogpost for Fragment will detail the methodology and process of conservation at each stage of the process, providing an insight into contemporary conservation approach and practice.

Tom Vowden

[1] LeGrove, J. Towards Retreat: Modernism, Craftsmanship and Spirituality in the work of Geoffrey Clarke. Doctorate. University of Derby 2007:p. 130.

Seduced by St Sebastian (1949)

Maxine cleaning St Sebastian in the studio at YGT.

Maxine cleaning St Sebastian in the studio at YGT.

Part I: Initial analysis of St Sebastian (1949)

Made in 1949 whilst Clarke was a student at The Royal College of Art, this early experimental piece takes traditional stained and leaded glass and reinvents it as a sculptural medium.  The artwork combines Clarke’s considerable emerging skills as a stained glass artist and the three-dimensional thinking of the sculptor. I was introduced to the piece whilst on placement at the YGT studios this summer.  Although on first viewing I was not immediately taken with the object, I was soon seduced by St Sebastian’s quiet charm.

The first stage of any conservation is assessing the current condition of the piece and trying to determine what its original condition may have been. In the case of St Sebastian, it is known that Geoffrey Clarke liked to use ‘found’ materials in his work and preferred his pieces to appear aged. 

The construction of the piece is intentionally crude and in particular, the frame is roughly assembled.  However the surprise is the beautifully painted and leaded glass, constructed in the traditional manner, which is sandwiched between roughly cut muff glass. These thick, green tinted pieces obscure this central panel giving it a mysterious and dark feel. 

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The loose piece of the wooden frame, showing residues of the glue used by Clarke.

The condition of the piece is generally good considering its basic construction.  The frame is sound except for one piece, which has become detached.  Fortunately this piece remains and reattaching it will be a very straightforward procedure.  There is a build-up of dust on the wooden surround, which will be gently removed with soft brushes. The putty holding the glass layers in place is cracked and weakened in places but as these layers are also supported by a series of panel pins, this is not too much of a concern.  Replacing the putty is not necessary and, indeed, on the reverse of the piece there are modelling marks, which are very likely Clarke’s own thumbprints. These are an important part of the piece and should not be lost.

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Cleaning the panel with soft brushes.

The glass surfaces are a little greasy but there is no evidence that there has been any ingress between the layers.  A simple cleaning with a 50:50 mixture of ethanol and deionised water should be enough to improve the appearance and passage of light through the glass.

The condition of the piece is recorded fully in written and photographic form before any conservation work can begin.  A conservation proposal is then given to the artwork’s custodian who must agree to the work.

Part II: Conservation of St Sebastian (1949)

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Removing dirt from the wooden frame using a small brush.

The conservation began with the cleaning of the wooden surround.  This was undertaken with a series of soft brushes.  It was surprising how much material was lodged between various parts of the frame.  The appearance of the piece was considerably improved by this simple treatment.

The glass cleaning proved more problematic especially the surface on the reverse of the piece.  After a 50:50 mixture of ethanol and deionised water proved somewhat ineffective in removing surface grease, a neat solution of ethanol was used.  This was more effective but not completely successful and so acetone was applied.  Again, there was some improvement, however a number of stubborn areas of greasy film remained on the surface of the glass. As the muff glass pieces are so ‘glassy’ and could not be harmed by a treatment with white spirit, this was the final cleaning option.  Cotton wool pads soaked in white spirit were applied to the rear surface and left for several minutes.  These were then removed and the greasy residue was treated with a scalpel.  Even this approach was not entirely successful, and a few faint traces remained.  These residual marks in no way impede the passage of light through the piece, nor do they threaten the glass surface in any way.  This being the case, further treatment was not considered necessary. The position of the marks were recorded in the treatment report for future reference.

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Removing the original glue with a scalpel.

Reattaching the detached piece of wooden frame was a straightforward procedure.  First the failed adhesive was removed from both surfaces with a scalpel.  This was very easy, as the yellowed glue was flaky and loose.  A quick wipe with a cotton bud in warm water removed any remaining residue.  New adhesive was then applied and the piece positioned and held until the glue had ‘gone off’.  The original adhesive used by Clarke was an animal or ‘hide’ glue which had failed over time.  It is usual practice for conservators to replace ‘like with like’ when restoring an object, however it seemed imprudent to used a substance which had already proved inadequate in the artwork’s lifetime.  For this reason, polyvinyl acetate or PVA was used as a superior alternative.  This glue is highly recommended by conservators of wood, bone, ivory, textiles and ceramics because of its reversibility.

The conservation of the panel is now complete and St Sebastian has been kitted out with a custom transportation and storage box which will keep this important piece in excellent condition whenever it is not on display at The Stained Glass Museum.

Maxine Allen