9 - Ancrum Parish Church, Scottish Borders
AddressAncrum Parish Church, Jedburgh TD8 6UY
Comments byDouglas Hogg
This entry is part 9 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.
HighlightMemorial window to the parents of William Johnstone
Artist, maker and dateWilliam Johnstone and Tom Fairs, 1958
Reason for highlighting
At the west end of the village of Ancrum near Jedburgh there exists a most interesting circumstance pivotal to an unknown small window having been placed in the church there in the 1960’s. Tom Fairs, a painter and Royal Academy exhibitor had also studied stained glass at RCA. But at this point we must roll back to the second decade of the 20C when a local lad William Johnstone was brought up on a small farm outside Selkirk. Against his parents’ fervent wishes that he remain to eventually take over the farm, he decided to study art. In 1919 he set oﬀ to study at ECA but the break with his father was particularly strained. The farm was soon sold and their relationship never fully recovered. In 1925 he moved to Paris joining with other (now) well-known names in taking drawing classes and discussing art and the contemporary movements such as the Symbolists and the Surrealists. He married a sculptor who was studying under Bourdelle, leaving for the States where he brieﬂy taught life painting in California, returning to the UK during the ﬁnancial crash. From 1938-46 he was the principal of Camberwell School of Art & Crafts where he developed an innovative curriculum engaging practicing artists as teachers and encouraging them to teach subjects outwith their trained areas. In 1947 he became the principal of the Central School of Arts & Crafts where he continued to encourage the interdisciplinary teaching of artists until he retired in 1960. His approach as a principal was very much hands-on – he would often be wandering around the place, entering the studios, peering with great interest over the shoulders of students, often sitting on the stairs talking art with individuals or small groups. How refreshingly modest and generously unstuﬀy! Throughout both of these teaching appointments just about every recognisable name in British painting, sculpture or design had passed as students through the doors or had taught at either Camberwell or Central Schools of Art – painters, sculptors, graphic artists, potters, textile artists and….yes, stained glass artists including the painter Tom Fairs. He had studied in the stained glass department at RCA with Lawrence Lee and was recruited onto the teaching staﬀ at Central. Fairs had also been involved in producing some of the windows for the new Coventry Cathedral. Alan Davie the Scottish painter (ECA late 1930’s) had taught at Central from 1953-1956. He collaborated with George Garson on a mosaic wall mural in the centre of Grangemouth and has also produced tapestries with the Dovecot Studios.
William Johnstone visited the United States on several occasions, once spending some time with Frank Lloyd Wright and his students. Today FLW remains an important ﬁgure in the teaching of architecture: architect working as an individual, as an artist. One American student, Robert Sowers, came to Britain on a Fulbright Scholarship to study painting at Central with Johnstone who suggested instead that he study and investigate the possibilities of using stained glass. On his return to the States Sowers took on many glass commissions including a vast work for Kennedy (then Idlewild) Airport, the ﬁrst instance of contemporary glass artwork being applied on such a scale and in that speciﬁc context. Nowadays the work of glass artists, some of them British, can be seen at international airports around the world although unfortunately not here in the UK. Sowers was a serious and committed modernist writing two important books on the subject of stained glass: “The Lost Art” (1954) and “Stained Glass: An Architectural Art” (1965). On his retiral he came back to the Scottish Borders where he died at Crailing, near Ancrum, in 1981 aged 84. I attended his retrospective exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London in 1980.
For years I had been curiously aware of this window at Ancrum but only as it appeared on the outside. It was only relatively recently that I discovered that it had been gifted by William Johnstone in 1958 and dedicated to the memory of his parents. This appears to be an unrecorded window and it was only by digging deep into local press archives that I found mention to this with a description of the occasion. The theme is the Venerable Bede, the cleric and scribe from Monkwearmouth near Sunderland – not that far away. The blue ﬂashed glass used throughout would most likely have come from here where glass-making had been going on continuously since the middle ages, only ceasing with the name of Hartley, Wood & Co some 40 years ago. I was lucky enough in earlier times to have selected glass from this unique source for myself and with my students at ECA. For the memorial Johnstone himself would have designed and been involved in creation this artwork in his very much hands-on manner with the attentive and practical guidance of his colleague and friend Tom Fairs, who was also present at the dedication.
William Johnstone pioneered in developing a structure for the future direction of art education in the UK along with the painter and Slade teacher William Coldstream. Here I make mention that the Scottish painter and Royal Academician Craigie Aitchison who studied under Coldstream at Slade designed a stained glass window for St Mary the Boltons’ church in Chelsea, London, which was completed just after his death in 2009.
In 1954 William Johnstone was awarded the OBE for services to art education.
This is the ninth 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.
Tom Fairs (1925-2011) was born in London and lived in Hampstead. He studied at the Hornsey School of Art from 1948 to 1950 and at the Royal College of Art from 1950 to 1954, where he studied stained glass design and subsequently received glass commissions for the next twenty years. He taught fine art and stage design from 1967 to 1987 at the Central School of Art and Design (now Central Saint Martin’s) in London. From 1963 to his death in 2007, the artist shared his life with the novelist Elisabeth Russell Taylor. Their attic flat is within close proximity to Hampstead Heath where, in his years of retirement from teaching, Fairs sketched daily.
William Johnstone OBE (1897–1981) was a Scottish artist and writer, and Principal of Central School of Arts and Crafts from 1947 to 1960.