7 - Church of St Mary, Haddington, East Lothian
AddressChurch of St Mary, Sidegate, Haddington, East Lothian, EH41 4BZ
Comments byDouglas Hogg
This entry is part 7 of a 10 part essay by Douglas Hogg with the title “The Lion in the North – a 20th century lineage – A personally immersive account of the development and influence of a progression in the use of glass painting in Scotland as an expressive form, with particular reference to this as a unique and identifiable east coast phenomenon.” The full essay can be read in the themes section, where there are also links to each of the locations that are discussed.
HighlightWest window, St Margaret & St. Helen
Artist, maker and dateSax Shaw, 1979
Reason for highlighting
The most undeniably critical inﬂuence and experience of the many artists and architects who passed through Edinburgh College of Art for almost forty years was Sax Shaw. An example of his work can be seen at St Mary’s Church, Haddington, but it is as a unique tutor that I refer to him here. Teaching at ECA (and GSA in early years) aspirant artists received great beneﬁt from the deep wisdom of his teaching. He taught his pupils as individuals, to possess a clarity of purpose and be of an independent mind. Both a ﬂamboyant and thoughtful person he had his own inimitable style and approach but it was how he questioned and enlivened the hearts of independent beings that he will be remembered of artists and architects. Here we were now being presented with the simple premise that nothing had ever yet eclipsed the qualities of medieval stained glass, that the soul of work in glass still lay there. With Sax developing the visual sensory experience came ﬁrst before academic purpose – the honest simple use of colour and the spare ﬂuidity of a graphic was what would give glass its life back again. Both the Pre-Raphaelite and Arts and Crafts movements had proposed this too but were, it could arguably be advanced, rather unsuccessful in this, making it an academic and intellectually purposed process as opposed to a purer more elemental and sensory response. Both these movements had been very much in control of their media processes, dominating to trap and rein in the playful nature of light and glass. With Sax, any teaching was geared to a self-exploration, further and deeper – he chose not to interfere while this process was taking root. Unregulated, unaccountable? Not for a minute…. we were given the independence and trust to ﬁnd things out for ourselves. Sax’s quiet strength was as a facilitator of self-enquiry which delivered a strong personal focus and a path of progressive development.
His window at Haddington shows the clear almost unfettered use of colour combined with a watery painterly slip technique characteristic of his style which honours the material of glass while celebrating the daylight within.
As an artist he was also remarkable but never made any reference to his own projects in the teaching studio. A tapestry designer/maker and a stained glass artist, he also designed the copper font, metal screen and slab glass wall of a baptismal area in a small modernist chapel at Parkgrove in Edinburgh. He painted murals as well: one of these, a notable fresco in an Edinburgh electricity showroom has sadly been destroyed. A tapestry designer too he was appointed director of the Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh, the interior of which he had started to alter to accommodate the huge tapestry for Coventry Cathedral for which he had been asked to create a sample piece translated from the coloured drawing by the painter Graham Sutherland. Having in his early days spent some time studying at the famous Gobelins tapestry studio in France, his own woven sample of four warps-to-the-inch had a tufted textured surface true to the character of wool but equally relevant was an essential structural consideration of weaving it on its side for the strength required to support the great weight of wool involved. This was not accepted by the artist who stubbornly wanted the ﬁnal piece to look exactly like his original watercolour drawing. And so the work went to the Gobelins Manufactory where it was woven in the upright position at sixteen warps-to-the-inch with the result that the great weight of the weft is causing it to slide down the warps causing gaps to appear. With the tapestry pulling itself apart due to the weight, it now has great structural defects which must constantly be attended to. The architect of Coventry Cathedral, Basil Spence (ex ECA), later Sir Basil, has written a very good account of the project : “Phoenix at Coventry” where he has much of interest and relevance to say when it comes to the structuring of a competent commissioning process and dealing fairly with the ideas and works of architects and artists. With Coventry Cathedral came a vast array of new stylistic approaches and the incorporation of fresh imagery within an almost incredible modernist setting. This has proved to be a very fertile moment in British ﬁne and applied art in an architectural context.
Willie Wilson was also asked to prepare designs for the Coventry windows which he did but the 2’x2’ glass sample he submitted was never returned!
This is the seventh part of a 10 part essay, to continue reading please follow the link below
Alternatively the whole essay, without pictures, can be read as a PDF here, or to go to the beginning of the essay click Part 1 – St Andrew’s and St George’s West Church, Edinburgh.
Sax Roland Shaw (1916-2000) was born in Yorkshire and studied at Huddersfield College of Art, before moving on to Edinburgh College of Art and settling permanently in Scotland. There he would become one of its most influential postwar artists. A maverick talent of exuberant gifts, Shaw designed stained-glass windows which light churches all over Scotland; dragged British tapestry into the modern era at the Dovecot Studios, and became a cherished mentor to generations of students at Edinburgh and Glasgow schools of art.
Source: The Scotsman obituary by Ninian Dunnett, published 27 September 2000 and quoted on saxshaw.com