John Hutton’s Great West Screen at Coventry Cathedral is one of the most notableworks of religious art of the 20th century in Britain. To coincide with the 50th the great west screen and its creatoranniversary of the consecration of the Cathedral, this new study of the work andthe artist has been produced by members of the family. John HuttonMoving from the early life of Hutton to the realisation of this,his most important commission, it gives a vivid insight into hisjourney of technical and artistic discovery over the ten yearsthe screen was in the making.This is the most complete single study of the West Screen, and written by Peter Huttonwill surely hold great interest for everyone who has looked upin wonder and pleasure at the ethereal beauty of the saintsand angels soaring between the ruins of the old Cathedraland the vitality of the new one. Each copy of this booklet will raise money for the upkeep of Coventry Cathedral Coventry Cathedral Coventry Cathedral
the great west screen and its creator John Hutton written by Peter Hutton designed by Oliver Hutton
Introduction J ohn was born in the South Island of New Zealand in 1906, a second-generation New Zealander whose grandparents had emigrated from Scotland and Wales. He moved with his family to the North Island when he was two. His father, Colin Campbell Hutton, became a successful barrister in Wanganui, where John went to Wanganui Collegiate School. John was the second eldest of seven siblings, and one of their memories of him as a child was his obsessive interest in drawing. Although the family were based in Wanganui, they owned, jointly with John’s uncle, a large stock farm in a remote area of native ’bush‘ in the upper reaches of the Wanganui River, aPREFACE natural landscape of great beauty which he recalled fifty years later in the glassThis booklet came into being because it was felt that the 50th anniversary of the for New Zealand House in London.consecration of Coventry Cathedral deserved a new study specifically on the West Screen. When his father died suddenly, on John’s fifteenth birthday, he had to take on the role of father for the family, which nowThere have of course been a number of earlier publications concerned with John Hutton’s work. found itself in great financial difficulties. This early experi-Those on the cathedral deal in part with his screen, although there is one dedicated booklet, now ence of responsibility was to characterise and strengthen himout of print (The West Window at Coventry Cathedral, English Counties Periodicals). Some are short, throughout the often insecure life of being an artist, as wellmainly photographic studies of his other major commissions, such as the Shakespeare Centre in as during the war. His upbringing had also given him practicalStratford-on-Avon. There is also the full length biography of the artist, written by the late Margaret skills and creativity, typical of the pioneer mentality of manyBrentnall in association with Marigold Hutton (Art Alliance Press, 1986), which contains a chapter on New Zealanders, qualities he put to good use in such thingsthe creation of the West Screen, and I would like to acknowledge her particularly detailed and useful as making the storage easels for the Coventry panels.contribution on the subject, as well as that of Marigold Hutton, who provided much of the materialfor the book and has advised me substantially in the writing of this current publication. Another consequence of his father’s death was the need for him to train for a reliable career, so he began to study law, While the need for an individual study of one of the cathedral’s major works of art is the main motiva- despite his real interest still being art.tion for this publication, another consideration has been the need to see John Hutton’s screen throughthe lens of time. It is sixty years since he found himself starting the commission of his lifetime, and as On moving to Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, he contin-always with art, the popular and critical perception of the meaning, merit, and success of a major public ued his law studies, but also took evening art classes, wherework changes over time. his tutor was the English painter Christopher Perkins. Perkins’ work, mainly landscapes and fine portraiture, was clearly an Art critics, church figures, the media, and the general public had much to contend with in assessing important early influence on John.such a strikingly original and unusual, and indeed emotional project, as the new cathedral. Each separatework in the cathedral caused controversy. Thus it was with John Hutton’s West Screen, which attracted In Wellington he also met his future wife, Helen Blair, ancomment across the full spectrum of opinion. aspiring artist herself, who greatly encouraged his art. There followed a period of five years of casual work, some law, It is the aim of this study to revisit the West Screen, and its artist, freed from the critical context of the a few mural painting commissions, then in 1934 John and1960s, when it was new. To this end, I have tried to re-assess the particularly complex relationship between Helen (”Nell“) married. In 1936, they left New Zealand byart and craft. I have also described afresh the more practical side of the story, an aspect that has been ship for England, convinced that their artistic careers woulddealt with to some extent in the earlier publications referred to. This includes the origins of the project, have much better chance of success in Europe than in a Newthe technical issues, the execution, and the artist and his vision. Zealand which at the time was a country still establishing itself As John Hutton’s son, I recognise the difficulty of being adequately objective in a study of this sort, but in more practical ways. John never returned to his countryI hope to have achieved a fair balance of objectivity and subjectivity – and where the latter is evident, of birth, although he always talked about it as a wonderfulperhaps this should be seen as part of the interest of the study, the interest of personal insight. place in which to grow up. Peter Hutton
The camouflage team were then deployed in Syria and Palestine and later, after the Normandy invasion, travelled through France and Belgium to Germany, where in 1944 John first met Captain Basil Spence, the future cathedral’s architect. This was the beginning of a long friendship. During the last stages of the war the cam- ouflage team (21 Army Group Camouflage Pool) were asked to find a way to disguise preparations for a Rhine crossing, so that the crossing would not be detected until the actual moment. This operation was a huge success and was acknowledged to have helped shorten the war. By the end of the war, John had attained the rank of Major and had been mentioned in Despatches three times. Back in England he was appointed head of the Camouflage School in Farnham, Surrey and requested Basil Spence as Deputy Head. Resuming his career as an artist, John was invited to participate in collaborative artistic projects, mainly of public works. Several of these involved Basil Spence as architect, such as a mural for the Sea and Ships pavilion in the 1951 Festival of Britain. John also became honorary secretary of the Society of Mural Painters. His first significant work of glass engraving was a set of four panels for another luxury liner, R.M.S.Caronia. These standing female figures were designed by John but executed by theIn London, contacts John had organised before leaving New Zealand London Sand Blast company, using a combination of sandblast-provided him with his first few commissions, in particular the mural work ing and wheel-engraving. LSB was a small firm producing highin which he had developed some expertise. The most important of these quality decorative work, and John’s association with them lastedwas for the luxury Orient Line ship, S.S.Orcades (1937).These murals portray for thirty years. However, he realised that this industrial tech-an assemblage of beach objects in a distinctly surreal style, but there is nique could not produce the subtlety of line and tone that healready evidence of the concern with fluid line which found expression in required: in effect, the craft limited the art.all his subsequent work. Other commissions followed. Then, soon after There were three more glass com-the birth of his twin sons in 1939, war was declared. missions executed in this way, On joining the army, John was trained as a camouflage officer, a skill before the great develop-for which his experience in large-scale murals was obviously relevant. ments of the West Screen:In Egypt there were airfields and fuel dumps to be camouflaged, on Runnymede Common-one occasion to hide the effects of a disastrous wealth Air Forceslimpet-bomb attack on allied ships in Alexandria Memorial, Guildfordharbour. Cathedral, and St Throughout the war John took every oppor- Erkenwald’s Churchtunity to make sketches. Children playing in in New Barking,London streets gave way to ragged boys and Essex.veiled women in Cairo. A lucky meeting with anartist led to the use of a studio where he couldpaint, and two of his paintings were exhibitedin the National Gallery in London in 1942 (thepermanent collection having been transportedto Wales for safe-keeping).
Genesis of the Great West Screen The final design, with the angels, was quickly approved by the cathedral representa- tives: ”We’ll have the one with the angels‚“ Bishop Gorton said when shown the two alternatives. The bishop then asked John if he believed in angels. His reply was: ”I don’t know that I do, but I certainly believe in them as an enormous help in design-”I had no hesitation in recommending John Hutton for the great glass screen… I had found in him an ing such a thing as this.“artist of great quality… one who knew the glass engraving technique backwards.“ Provost Howard then prepared a list of saints, focussing on Old Testament patriarchs Basil Spence (in his book Phoenix at Coventry, 1962) and prophets, important New Testament apostles, saints who brought Christianity to Britain, and later British saints. Finally there were a group of named angels from the Bible, planned as standing figures. The flying angels were to be John’s own free crea- tions. The original list of saints included only three female ones: the MadonnaT he new cathedral arose out of a competition for the architect, and Child, St Hilda and St Osburga. However, John was keen to have more which was won by Basil Spence in 1951. It was a fundamental part females, in order to introduce variety in forms and faces, or in his words, ”to of his design to retain all the ruins of the old cathedral (bombed liven the design.“ The provost found it difficult to identify other female saintsin 1940), and therefore to create a very strong visual and physical link of sufficient importance, but his final choice provided four, after adding Queenbetween the old and the new. So the concept of a vast translucent screen (St) Margaret of Scotland. He also suggested that the saints did not need to bewas appealing for Spence. However his first idea, a screen the full height shown as bishops – for instance St Alban was a Roman soldier. This encouragedof the nave which could be lowered into the ground on important occa- John to do some research and he found a wide range of attributes which wouldsions (using a system of weights and pulleys) was soon abandoned out identify a particular saint. Examples include Saint Chad holding a miniatureof practical considerations, in particular the likelihood of dust and street version of Lichfield Cathedral, Alfred and Oswald who were both kings, and thelitter being blown in. Instead the screen would be a fixed one, engraved martyr Thomas à Becket who was a monk and could be shown with a sword”with a translucent pattern of saints and flying angels which partly, in his head, the moment of his murder. Another change to the original designbut never entirely, obscure the view in either direction‚“ as Hutton later was the placing of Saint Michael, the patron saint of the cathedral. His positiondescribed it. But the flying angels in fact did not feature in the first among the bottom row of standing angels was felt to be inappropriate, so with designs, which consisted of a the decision to place him more prominently, John realised a significant design monotonous pattern of rows of improvement could be made: the arresting upright form of Saint Michael would saints on alternate panels. John become the central panel of the highest row of flying angels, thus interrupting realised this was not suitable. and in a sense moderating the vigorous movement of the angels, as well as providing In addition, the consultant a variation in comparison to the other rows of continuous flying angels. From this engineer, Ove Arup, warned point the design was settled, and the work of further research and detailed drawing that there would be structural began. There were ninety panels in total to be engraved, constituting 66 figures. problems unless the vertical (For full list, see Arrangement of Figures in appendices) mullions were much broadened (at right angles to the surface of the glass), especially in the horizontal middle of the screen, where dangerous flexibility would be greatest – and these large metal projections out from the glass surface would tend to disturb the viewing of the engravings when seen from even slightly to one side. Both these problems were solved byhis introduction of flying angels for alternate rows, which broke up theregularity of the saints and also created the flowing movement acrossthe screen to overcome the fragmenting effect of the mullions. In John’swords: ”The mullions … are very deep, and I had to get a strong feelingof movement sideways of these angels to counteract the pronouncedmovement upwards of the saints. So I used the trumpets to break throughthese mullions, and also the wings, so that the movement of these flyingangels is not interrupted too much.“ Also, for the figure artist whichJohn had always primarily been, the human body in all its complexitycould be fully expressed.
Artistic influences T here is no doubt that John Hutton’s greatest love in art was the Italian Renaissance. From his earliest experience of this, when his father brought back from a trip to Europe prints of the masters, to John’s last visit to Italy in 1976, he never lost his reverence for the human nude, which reached its artistic peak in the sixteenth century in Venice, Florence, Rome and Bologna. These nudes were not just studies of flesh and sensuality, but landscapes of muscle and energy, qualities which one can see in the vitality of his own, particularly female, figures. Of these artists, the High Renaissance painter Botticelli was prob- ably the strongest influence on John’s later work.There were, however, other more specific influences,more culturally appropriate to the ecclesiastical Chartres Cathedral’s West portal is lined with tall,content of the West Screen. The most important slender, column-like reliefs of figures (probablyin relation to the Coventry work were the Roman- representing the seven liberal arts). All the linesesque bas-reliefs (low relief sculptures) to be found are vertical: fingers, robes, beards. The effect isin churches in parts of France, particularly Souil- suitably austere and mysterious, and in its rigidity,lac and Moissac in the South-West, and Chartres a striking contrast to the energetic contortions ofCathedral and the Basilica of Vézelay in the North. Souillac and Moissac. This contrast is echoed inIt is worth noting that John’s glass engraving tech- the contrast between the West Screen’s standingnique, which cut deeply into the glass, produced figures and its flying angels.a certain sculptural quality on an otherwise flat As well as the direct influence of these Frenchsurface, hence his great interest in carved figures. religious carvings, other artists whom John Souillac, for example, has a weathered carving of admired include Rubens, the virtuoso painter of thethe prophet Isaiah in the portal. The figure is sculpted texture of flesh, and Rembrandt, who imbued hisin a series of extraordinarily stylised twists down its nudes as well as his portraits with intense feeling.length. Even the drapery and the arms form motifs In addition, Tiepolo and similar baroque paint-that are on the border between the angular and the ers are referenced in some of John’s preparatorysinuous. The effect is not only of linear extremism, sketches for the Coventry glass. Perhaps morebut of the spiritual – of a form that surpasses the surprising among John’s most admired artists wasmerely corporeal, the merely human. Picasso, whose sheer inventiveness and confidence At Vézelay, the Christ in Majesty has similar angular must have inspired him, as well as the Spanishtwists, and in addition one sees the exaggerated motifs which reminded John of a country he lovedwhorls of drapery on projecting parts of the body, and often visited. Finally, we must mention paint-particularly the knees and hips, that John absorbed ings he did as ’homages‘ to Klimt and Velasquez,into his own stylistic canon. and watercolour life drawings inspired by Rodin.
Evolution of style and technique It was the commission for the Commonwealth Airforces Memorial Chapel at Runnymede in Surrey (1953), a window with the words of Psalm 139 and two angels, which marked the moment when John realised things would have to change. This work was commissioned by the architect of the chapel, Sir”An artist cannot work for any length of time in close association with Edward Maufe, who also designed Guildford Cathedral, and had been onea craft without stagnating, unless he is continually returning to the of the three assessors for the Coventry competition won by Basil Spence. Theproblems of expression rather than those of the craft.“ Runnymede work revealed a serious problem: on the chapel’s dedication day John Hutton the sun shone brightly in a clear sky – and the delicate tracery of his design, including the words of the psalm, almost disappeared against such strong backlight. This was a shock, and in showing him the need to break away fromT he layman seldom understands the paradoxical relationship between dependence on glass craftsmen, however skilled, it became the spur for his an artist’s imagination, and their techniques and media. It is para- unique technical breakthrough. doxical because, on the one hand, like the relationship between Runnymede was actually completed one year into the first stages of thecontent and form, they are two sides of the same coin, while on the Coventry designing, and two years later John’s lunettes of angels at Guildfordother hand, they need to be respected as distinct inputs to the creative Cathedral were the last pieces he did not engrave himself. The later panels heprocess – that is, the imagination needs its freedom from too many did for Guildford in 1960, which he engraved himself, show an extraordinarytechnical constraints, and conversely, technique and media must have change in style. So in the one building one sees pre-Coventry and post-Coventry,a value in themselves as the material basis of artistic production. This the artist separated from his craft, then the artist completely integrated withis the paradox, the artist’s eternal problem, which the quoted words of his craft.John express. As the possibilities for a new style emerged with his realisation that he would be He came to glass engraving, as he said ‚”more or less by accident.“ Like doing almost every stage of the work himself, John’s early designs became trans-most artists, he started with drawing and moved into painting; he then formed. The Musician Angel (1952) and John took a more specialised the Baptist (1953) represent a middle stage step into murals, which in this process. The unorthodox and ana- gave him an understand- tomically impossible stance of the angel, the ing of large scale design. whimsically sketched quality of the drapery, But all of these allowed a the elongation of all elements (especially the focus on form and colour, neck – which harks back to the late Renais- and his media were still sance Italian Mannerists): all these were to the familiar ones of can- appear more forcefully in the later designs. vasses, brushes, paints, In the cartoon for John the Baptist a similar walls. When he started freeing-up of style, by comparison with earlier experimenting with glass work, is evident. The final version cartoon engraving, he found that (1957-8) shows not only a greater degree most glass engravers were of stylisation, to beessentially craftspeople. He soon realised that he would have to adapt the seen with the bookexisting techniques to suit his designs. Most other glass engraving was on the prophet holds,a small scale; his would be large scale. Most other engraving was delicate, which has becomeoften decorative (and often with lettering); his needed to be expressive an important com-and free. Other ways of engraving lacked the possibility of spontaneity of positional feature, aexecution, being slow and deliberate; his would need the energy of the huge wedge shapesketch on paper or the brushstroke on canvas. echoing the V-form of As noted earlier, his first glass pieces (carried out by London Sand Blast) the arms, but showswere partly sandblasted, partly engraved, but the engraving technique also the feathery,involved moving the panels over the grinding wheel, the equivalent of fragmented qualitydrawing by fixing the pencil and moving the paper over it, hardly ideal of line which reflectsfor an artist. So these designs, reflecting the restrictions of the craft, were the action of grindingdecorative and restrained – fine for their purpose, but not suitable for the wheel on glass – thegreat spiritual work of Coventry that lay ahead. However, at the start of vital significance of al-the Coventry commission it was assumed by all involved that the same lowing the art to beprocedure would take place: John would do the designs, while the actual informed by the craft.execution in glass would be by a glass craft professional.
At this point we need to look more dimensions, at eight feet by thirty-two inches, are slightly shorter and broader closely at the actual process the than the typical proportions of a standing person.) artist went through, from concep- The first figures to be drawn were the topmost ones, which being so high tion to finished panel. After the would need to be ”the boldest in design and most stylised in silhouette.“ initial two years of general planning for (Brentnall) As mentioned before, there was also a need to include emblems the screen, in which the whole screen in of the saints and standing angels, in order that they could be identified, and miniature was drawn, the figures were these became an important contribution to composition, allowing otherwise sketched individually in quarter scale. similar forms to be differentiated. Abraham, for example, holds the knife with As the glass panels were to be eight feet which he prepares to sacrifice his son: the long, fine blade projects past his by thirty-two inches (244 x 82.5 cm), shoulder like a huge thorn, a linear exaggeration which interrupts the regularity each panel was a drawing of two feet of the body shape – and is visible from far down below. by eight inches (about 60 x 20 cm). The The final stage of the design process required scaling up the drawings to drawings were then pasted together in full-size cartoons (drawings made in preparation for a painting, or in this case a series of ’concertina‘ booklets, one the engraving). These were also done on sheets of black paper using white for each row, which could be opened chalk, but here a problem was encountered: no black paper of adequate size out as a strip. The strips could be laid could be found. So John had the tedious task of making what he called ”stick- out on the floor together to show the ups“: full-size sheets produced by glueing together smaller sheets. This was choice and arrangement of figures, and done for all ninety cartoons before a source of large paper was finally found. give some idea of John’s intended style. Converting small drawings to a larger size is usually achieved by ’squaring This was a year’s work, and was the last up‘, which involves creating a grid on both, then copying into the larger grid stage for which approval was required to ensure accuracy of proportion. This tends to produce a slightly stiff, lifeless (by the Reconstruction Committee). line, so John came up with the ingenious solution of photographing the smallWith this approved, John could now work on studies of the figures, drawings as transparencies (slides), projecting them (in darkness) as enlargedparticularly the nude life studies which would be the basis of the flying images on the big sheets, then drawing the outlines quickly, before turningangels, and which gave him the greatest scope for his imagination and off the projector to complete all the detail and adjust the design at leisure.experimentation with form. These were generally red or black Already at this stage, long before thechalk, or pen and wash, on cartridge paper. Successful actual engraving began, John neededstudies were then transferred to white chalk on black to incorporate into his designs thepaper to create an effect closer to what would become effect of varying texture and opacitywhite engravings on the glass, and also to remove that the engraving into the glass wouldsome of the fine detail and, as Brentnall points out, produce: the polished knuckles, the”to distance John from the living model.“ The model, round voids of the trumpet mouths, theincidentally, was Marigold Dodson, later his second wife. burnished whorls of knees and otherInterestingly, in Marigold’s view John’s drawings were really joints. There must have been a largea transmutation of her body into one more like his own. element of guesswork in this – creating as chalk on paper what would become ground glass. Another reason for needing The flying angels, although discrete designs, needed to interlock across the to predict the change from cartoon to glass whole row, to create a frieze (a decorative band of carving or painting), and was ”to judge how much of the prepara- much re-working of each one was necessary to create the desired relation- tory work on the glass could be carried ship of movement and form between them – a wing projecting sharply from out by the London Sand Blast craftsmen. one might require an adjustment to the leg of its neighbour. In addition, to Finally he decided to have a basic silhou- create variation in their movements, considerable distortion of the body was ette, a sort of nude sand-blasted all over in required – but distortion was something to be welcomed by the artist, the a saucer-shaped section – that is, a gentle expressionist impulse which had always been present in his art. Again, one curve. Then he selected areas to be deeply notes the constructive interplay between pure art and its practical constraints. engraved and highly polished – for instance, The tall, slender form of all the standing figures drew inspiration, as sug- the mouths of the angels’ trumpets, which gested earlier, from the Chartres Cathedral figures, and in a more general are cut and polished like lenses.“ (Brentnall) sense reflects the desire to soar upwards which is part of the very nature of This required special drawings on tracing all churches and cathedrals – one of the best examples of the latter being Albi paper, with outline and shading, for the Cathedral in France, an inspiration to Basil Spence in his own design, with company engravers. its towering walls inset with the tall slits of its windows. (In fact the panel
On the first of May 1959 the first white sludge accumulating on the glass meant that the area being engraved prepared panel was delivered to constantly became obscured, and therefore needed to be constantly wiped John’s studio in London. These panels clear. Another source of discomfort was the noise, almost ear-splitting at such were large and obviously extremely close quarters. Ear muffs were a partial solution to this. Finally, there was the heavy, so in anticipation of coping strain on the hands and wrists of holding a powerful and heavy drill absolutely with them John had constructed steady (one slip could mean the ruin of the entire panel of glass – and the drill some large wheeled easels with was always ready to ’run away‘). This vibration strain soon resulted in arthritis rollers at the base. This enabled him in the artist’s thumbs. During breaks in this tiring activity John would either to roll panels from a working easel play the guitar or listen to music. to a storage easel. When it became Achieving the right degree of polish on certain areas presented major dif- clear to him that he would have to ficulties, particularly a very high polish. (An intermediate polish was possible develop his own methods, he ap- using finer grinding wheels.) The usual method of using jewellers’ rouge proached a long-standing friend, (iron oxide, or its equivalent) with fabric-covered wheels was far too slow, Robert Goodden, future Pro-Rector and John became very concerned about this, given the time pressure he was of the Royal College of Art. Goodden under. However, after extensive experimentation his inventiveness produced suggested consulting an engineer in the answer: rubber wheels with strips of emery (corundum) paper glued on. the Royal College art department, The glue needed to be strong enough to hold the emery on the wheel, but whose advice was to use a motor weak enough to allow the worn strips to be taken off easily, a frequent renewal with a flexible drive turning a grind- being necessary, and the preparation of these strips was also a laborious task stone. This would allow John to use He would prepare large amounts of glued emery sheets in advance and hang the equipment with freedom or pre- them around the studio on lines – they stayed tacky and usable for months – cision, like a brush on canvass. He then cut them up when required. In use, the emery strips would sometimesduly bought an old motor, a flexible drive and various grindstones, and fly loose from the wheel and flap violently, forcing an immediate stop to theconstructed a wooden trolley to hold them. Grindstones were available work, but the technique solved all his polishing difficulties as he found thatin a large variety of grades and sizes and makes, and his experimentation different grades of emery created different finishing effects, different tones ofto find the best combinations lasted years. This somewhat improvised polish – in other words, allowing a subtlety which the traditional method wouldequipment was to last him for more than two decades. not have given. In the end he was using just two grindstones and three grades Problems arose quickly, in particular the juddering that resulted if the of emery to achieve all the variation of tone he required. John’s discovery ofpressure he applied was too great or if the speed of the grinding wheel was the rubber wheel with emery method was a major advance for his work, oneincorrect, in other words if the torque was incorrect. This was solved by a which he exploited to the full in the later work for the Shakespeare Centrenew flexible drive and slower running speeds. He was also alerted by the and Plymouth Civic Centre.engineer to the danger of over-heating the glass, which could shatter. The Line quality could be altered by use of an ’untrue‘ grindingsolution to this was a crudely made cooling device. A bendable aluminium wheel, which produced a dotted rather than continuousstrip was tied to the base of the handpiece, and at the end of this strip was line, useful for details such as hair and drapery. Extremelytied a piece of sponge which could be dipped in water every few minutes; fine lines were produced by very small wheels on the cord-the aluminium strip with the sponge was then bent against the rotating driven dentist’s drill, which was mounted above the mainwheel as it was grinding. Of course, spray mixed with ground glass and motor and drive, and powered independently.grit flew everywhere, which was neither pleasant nor safe, and John had The whole process can be summed up in the words ofto wear goggles much of time. But the combination of goggles and the the artist: ”I developed the method I use in order to deal with very large surfaces which have to be seen from a considerable distance, and where an altogether rougher treatment is necessary. The process starts with a coarse wheel that makes a white chalky mark, biting fairly deeply into the glass. Parts of this are worked over until a polished transparency is obtained. The depth of grinding varies from a 16th to an 8th of an inch [about 2 to 4 mm] but an impression of much greater depth is given by the glass.“ 1959. With the cartoons completed, and technical experi- mentation at an end, two years of artistic and mechanical labour now lay ahead. And it was now that perhaps his greatest challenge came, the fusion of a unique art with a new craft.
The work in progress the bottom row (the standing angels), and installation of the panels at the cathe- dral could begin. Now a problem arose. When the scaffolding was removed from the screen, Basil Spence stood outside looking in, expecting to clearly see the end of the nave, where the Sutherland tapestry would be. Instead, to his dismay,”My dear John, thank you for the photographs which you have done so far. I think it’s extremely promising, he saw the reflection of the old cathedral’s ruins. He judged that the engravingsbut may I suggest that you should try to avoid too much exaggeration of the necks. I have it from the Bishop, were simply too opaque, too white (although at night, of course, Sutherland’sbut this is only a quiet word in your ear. I personally think they are vital and are something quite new in glass tapestry is, and always was, strongly visible when viewed through the glassengraving technique, and should make considerable impact.“ from outside). Basil Spence John agreed to try to correct this, which meant re-installing the scaffolding and beginning a difficult process of polish- ing many areas to allow more light through. In this task his two eldest sons, Warwick and Cailey, were able to help him as both had been trained by him in the basics of glass engraving. On one occasion during this process, while they were working on the highest level, Cailey noticed that he was having to stretch to reach the glass and assumed that the scaffolding must have moved back. In fact, the glass had moved. It had broken loose from its fixings on the ceiling and was fifteen inches out of position. Everyone left the scaffolding very rapidly, and structural engineers then inspected the screen and decided that steel cables would need to be permanently attached to the central mullions and hooked into the canopy to stabilise the whole screen and take some of its weight. Although John was at first disappointed to see this visual interference with the glass, particularly at night, later he realised it was not significant. The re-polishing finished, John now found the screen to be far too transparent. In particular, the highest figures, the patriarchs, were almost invisible. This was a source of much disappointment to him, and it was onlyU with the passage of time, as stone dust from the sand- ntil 1960 John had been working on the West Screen glass in his stone walls accumulated permanently in a fine layer on studio in St John’s Wood (North West London). Marigold Hutton the rough surface of the glass, that some of the opacity gives an interesting picture of this workplace, as it was when she returned, allowing him finally to feel satisfied with the overallfirst visited it to model for the artist: ”I rang the bell at the Landseer effect. The visitor today will notice the great differenceStudios and when the door was opened I was greeted by a heady and between a viewing of the glass from the outside, when thedelightful smell of paint and turps. I went down some bare wooden engraving looks much whiter, like the chalk on dark paper ofstairs and along a dark corridor to John’s studio. There were red chalk the original cartoons, and a viewing from the inside, whichdrawings of nudes on the wall, paintings stacked one against the other, gives a delicate transparency. The artist himself preferred thea model’s throne on casters, and a good fire burning in the stove. John latter: ”I like the view from the inside much better than thedrew me in red and black chalk and then, over tea, he told me about view from the outside, because there is rather a flat light whichthe commission for Coventry Cathedral, unrolling a white chalk drawing strikes the screen from the outside … when you get inside,on black paper which he fixed to the wall with sellotape. ’Something it becomes evanescent and transparent, and that is how Ilike that,‘ he said, ’but I haven’t got it right yet.‘“ think glass ought to be. It ought to come and go and flash However, the space in this studio was far too restricted for the collection here and flash there, and you ought perhaps not to see theof huge panels accumulating, so in early 1960 he moved not far away to a whole effect at any one time.“large and beautiful studio in Maida Vale. This also became the permanent The cathedral was consecrated on the 25th of May,home of John and Marigold, with whom he was now living. It was here 1962, in the presence of Queen Elizabeth, and attracting athat the rest of the Coventry engraving and most of his subsequent work huge number of people. Now began the assessment of itswas done. success or otherwise – from the commentators, the public, Progress on the glass was fast here, and needed to be as he had a the church, and the press.completion date of summer 1961. By August 1961 he had finished all but
The aesthetic of John Hutton Unlike the flying angels of the screen, the other figures have an icon-like regular- ity. Their serenity – even austerity – contrast with the playful exuberance of the flying angels, but again design is all important: their intense verticality balances the horizontal movement of the angels. As for the features of the heads, it is”His was a restless and experimental mind, and once its light shone upon a problem he stayed with it not far-fetched to compare these with the artist’s own features. Hugh Casson,till he knew it through and through … a passion for the human figure as a source of human inspiration, on his first meeting with John, described him thus: ”lofty, loose-limbed, a skinsensitive draughtsmanship.“ that spoke of an outdoor life, a craggy profile, pin-sharp eyes beneath black Sir Hugh Casson (President of the Royal Academy of Arts 1976-1984) brows.“ Of necessity he often had to model the male figure from himself, and the head of St Cuthbert is perhaps the closest to a self-portrait among the saints. But the bony, strong-H ow can one characterise the fundamentals of a style which, as featured quality of the male the above comment suggests, was constantly evolving throughout head, with its forceful chin the fifty-five years or so of the artist’s working life? Perhaps the and nose, is repeated in mostkey to one fundamental was an observation made in her diaries by his of his later work, particularlyfirst wife, Nell Hutton, soon after she had first met him (in New Zealand): the great men of history and”Line, line, line means everything to him. For him, line can express form, literature in the Canadiantone, colour and movement.“ His fascination for the aesthetic impact of National Library.a powerful, confident and imaginative line is evident in all his art, and Probably the most charac-his female figures are defined not so much by a sensuality of body, but a teristic quality of all John’ssensuality of playful line. glass work and indeed The female form is clearly that which the artist painted and drew and many of his later drawingsengraved most in his life. But perhaps it is worth noting that John was is his freedom with line. Notfortunate to have, for much of his creative life, the constant presence of only does it delineate form,a dedicated and beautiful model, his wife Marigold. Wherever he was, it becomes form: the relent-however, he found himself fascinated by the challenge of capturing in a less cross-hatchings and whorls on drapery, hair, wings, even solid massessimple sketch the essence of the female, whether it be in a studio in Cairo of flesh, create the very texture of his form. For some critics, this ”nervousduring the war or on a beach in Spain in his later years. confusion of line“ (Terence Mullaly in the Daily Telegraph, 1969) was too In all his secular representations of women, he was concerned to explore much. But we need to understand, yet again, the impact of the techniquethe interplay between sensuousness, beauty, line, and the nature of the on the art: the nature of glass engraving is working with a tool – a fast-female – psychological nature as much as physical. Angels, however, rotating and powerful grinding wheel – which tends to impose its energyare of indeterminate sex, theologically speaking. They are understood as on the engraver’s line. Unlike a brush or a pencil, all of whose energy isandrogynous, beings of pure spirit. So although the West Screen angels generated by the artist, the grinding wheel insists on restless movement,are seen by some as more feminine than masculine, their angularity not insists on thrusting the line to and fro in a breathless completion of form.only embodies John’s stylistic interest, but also dilutes their femininity Discussing his glass commission for the Pilkington head office, he said,and turns them into wind-whisked, bird-like spirits, or in his own words, ”I treated this piece very loosely, and the tendency of the wheel to ’run away‘”completely unsentimental angels with a feeling of vigour and joy and an was fully exploited.“ So perhaps it was John’s partial and willing surrender to theimpression of moving around freely in space.“ His later work with the female medium he used, engraving on glass, that above all determined his aesthetic.form does not abandon his interest in angularity andvigour, but in many works re-introduces moreexplicitly the fullness and softness thatdefine femininity. However, many of theposes are not conventionally beauti-ful, for his interest was always toplace design above simple beauty.He wrote: ”The human figure is inmy estimation the most absorb-ing and limitless subject in all art.Its association with history andmythology and its infinite ways ofbeing represented make it an everlast-ing source of inspiration.“
Reactions to the West Screen Later life and work”The Screen must stand or fall as a work of art and as an expression of the Christian theme.Those who are acquainted with glass engraving will look in vain for the delicacy of conventionalwork on this Screen … I have always felt that my work for this Screen must be more thanpurely decorative. It must join with, and contribute to, the spiritual surge of the architecture orit will have no real place in a great building of such importance.“ John HuttonA t the completion of the cathedral, art critics and others were quick to express views, often forcefully. It was, after all, the most significant artistic-religious project in Britain for many generations, not to mention its powerful emotional association with the war. Although views about the cathedral as a whole as well as the West Screen were very mixed, afairly common criticism made was that the Screen allowed in too much light, thereby reducing theimpact of the stained glass windows. There was also a fundamental misconception from some Dcritics about the essential function of the Screen, which was pointed out by the Financial Times uring the work on Coventry, John was also involved in otherarchitectural correspondent: ”The designs on these panels are finely subordinated by the artist to the commissions, principally Guildford Cathedral, for which he desig-main function of providing a transparent division at the point of entry from the open-sided porch.“ ned and engraved the two separate works mentioned earlierThe art critic Eric Newton writing in the Guardian was one of those who did not recognise this (lunettes of three angels in 1955, and six sentinel angels on the Westfunction, objecting that ”The glass screen doors in 1960), and a chapel window forcrowded with engraved figures by John Hutton the Dunkirk War Memorial (1957) whichis a little diffuse. One searches for focal points attracted the admiration of Queen Elizabethand arresting intersections that would make an the Queen Mother.intenser meaning and one fails to find them.“ His first major commission after the WestJohn was surprised that such a respected art critic Screen was the one he himself regarded asshould have so misunderstood the purpose of the his best work in glass, a series of panels forscreen, and he wrote to the Guardian newspaper, the new Plymouth Civic Centre (1962). Thesepointing out that it was never meant to have a consisted of a number of female figuresfocal point, but was always intended to form a representing mermaids, winds and mytho-lace-like screen to link the old and new cathedrals. logical figures, and Poseidon, the Greek god Some, such as Terence Mullaly of the Daily of the sea. There were also some sea-inspiredTelegraph, found the ”angular, piercing, thorn- designs. The figures were confident, fluid,like quality“ of the angels not to their taste. But moving a little towards abstraction – in fact almost like wave-worn rocks.this quality was for others a great strength: David They received a very positive response from critics.Peace, architect and glass engraver and first chair- In 1963 John and his model Marigold Dodson married.man of the Guild of Glass Engravers, wrote to In the same year he received his next major commission,the Times that ”they are quite awesome, fear glass panels for the entrance of New Zealand House ininspiring; and that is why they are so success- London. On one panel he engraved the New Zealandful compared with angels in stained glass or on coat of arms, and in the other, recalling his youth, heChristmas cards.“ Another positive assessment depicted the native trees and birds of the country ofcame much later, in a 1969 Arts Review discussion his birth.of his work: ”Hutton’s sheer technical virtuosity in This was quickly followed by another major commis-the control of line and texture is of an extraordi- sion, and for him perhaps the most interesting of hisnarily high order; what is more, he achieves this life: a series of nineteen characters from Shakespeare fordegree of technical skill without any diminution the new Shakespeare Centre, next to the playwright’sof aesthetic impact. The face of the Angel of birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon. The glass, of figuresResurrection in the Great West Screen at Coventry at full scale, was to be at floor level where visitorsevoked tremendous mystical power.“ could see it from close up. This allowed him to portray
expression and feeling in the characters to done on beaches in Spain. There the maximum. In particular it called on his were eight life studies of seated skill in exploiting the many subtle changes of and lying poses, on four large hori- a face that engraved glass produced, as the zontal panels, and the idiom was light and position of viewer changed. This was more modern than his previous something that had not been quite so vital up work, with bikinis and sunglasses. to now. His design for Romeo and Juliet, the Engravings on glass goblets and two entwined to become almost one form, mirrors and other small pieces were was one on which he created variations in becoming common in his work, several different media for years after. This and this exhibition included many large and difficult commission was completed such items. He had also bought an in only fourteen months to coincide with the etching press and was experiment- celebrations for the four hundredth anniversary ing with this medium, seeking to do pieces which could be more available for of Shakespeare’s birth in 1564. sale to individual collectors, and would not involve the strain of large scale works.In 1964 there was a major exhibition of his work at Prestons Art Gallery A number of smaller commissions for engravings followed, then his last majorin Bolton, then after a lull in commissions, there came the second public work: five windows for St. Paul’s Cathedral in Wellington, New Zealandlargest commission of his life (Coventry being the first). Canada’s (1973). He chose to do flying angels again, in a style that harked back to theNational Library and Archives, in Ottawa, requested a series of full-scale Coventry glass. About the same time, a major exhibition of his work touredengraved panels featuring important writers New Zealand, the first exhibition he had ever had there.from literature round the world (for example, In 1973 John’s daughter with Marigold, Katie, was born, and within twoShakespeare, Dante, Chaucer, Goethe), years the family were preparing to move out of London into the countrysidefigures from Canadian history, the Muses, near Oxford.and figures symbolising speaking and writing. By this time his work had attracted considerable interest in the United StatesAs with the Shakespeare engravings, John’s and Canada, and several glass commissions came from there. These includedconcern was to express the character and an engraving of the Holy Spirit as a dove for a church in the heart of Dallassignificance of these figures, and he embarked (designed by Philip Johnson), and a set of the four evangelists and St. Paul foron substantial research, which included trips to the First Christian Church in Tyler, Texas (1977).Canada to acquire a feel for the landscape of thecountry and its history. The work was completed In 1977, John received his final commission. This was for a fifteen foot (4.5in 1967. metre) screen inside Butcher’s Hall, in the City of London. The theme decided on jointly by artist and Sir John Borthwick, the donor, was the coat of arms of He now entered a period of reduced health, after suffering a mild stroke, the Worshipful Company of Butchers and four standing female figures at fulland he was fortunate to be able to rely increasingly on his son Warwick, scale, representing the four seasons.a professional artist himself, to help with some of the engraving work.This was the case with his next commission, for the Newcastle-upon-Tyne By now, John’s health was declining fast and Warwick had decided to helpCivic Centre. It involved a glass screen forty feet (about 12 metres) in him complete the engraving.length, the subject to be some semi-abstract designs of local technology, John Hutton died in July 1978, and three months later a memorial serviceand some figures representing local Romano-Celtic history. The technique for him was held at Coventry Cathedral. In the full sunshine of an Octoberhe applied for this engraving was something of an innovation for him: day, the four hundred people present turned to face the Great West Screen asthere was no preliminary sandblasting, and he confined his deep engrav- the organ played a fanfare, and the family walked out to unveil the memorialing to the edges of the forms, producing a less sculptural effect over the stone at the foot of the screen.bodies, but more freedom of texture. King Olav of Norway opened the Provost Williams gave his eulogy on John in these words:Civic Centre in 1968. “I used to reflect on the way in which the artist’s character This free texture was seen at its most developed in a work done for was mirrored in his work. In no instance was this morethe Pilkington Glass headquarters at St. Helens. The three graces were evident than in John Hutton’s Great West Screen – in itssketched over the surface of the glass with the lightest possible touch, strength, cragginess, clarity, and yet its sensitive tendernessusing a mass of wispy lines: the glass is treated like a piece of paper, rather and gaiety and respect for beauty. And what better wordsthan a block of sculpted stone. (Unfortunately this has since been broken.) than those to use for the man who created it? My abiding In 1969 the Art Gallery of the Commonwealth Institute in London invited memory of him is of the easy harmony in his character ofJohn to hold a retrospective exhibition. As he was unable to include any of power and tenderness, of passion and gentleness. A man ofthe major glass engravings, all of them being installed in buildings, he had steel, was the impression gained from his unsmiling, craggyto substitute with cartoons of these, but also decided to engrave a new face, but one had only to look into those remarkable eyeswork. This was a frieze entitled ”Girls on the Beach”, based on sketches to feel the profound gentleness of the man.“
List of selected commissioned work Early Glass Work Commonwealth Air Forces War Memorial. Runnymede, near Windsor. Two angels and inscription. Window, 1953. Architect: Sir Edward Maufe. Bucklersbury House. London. Roman London and Celtic London. Two engraved glass murals, 1953. Architect: Owen Campbell-Jones. St Erkenwald’s Church. New Barking, Essex. Tinted glass windows, 1955. Architect: Rex Foster of Tooley and Foster. Dunkirk War Memorial. Dunkirk, France. Retreat from Dunkirk. Window in the chapel, 1957. Architect: Philip Hepworth. Guildford Cathedral. Three musician angels. Lunettes, 1955. Six sentinel angels. The West Doors, 1960.AFTERWORD Warwick Hutton completed the commission for Butcher’s Hall, Architect: Sir Edward Maufe. introducing subtle changes to John’s designs to reflect his own style – less angular, more naturalistic, but in every way as skilled Glass Engraving after Coventry Cathedral and imaginative as his father. He also undertook replacements Glass Engraving in Britain to panels that were damaged, such as one of the flying angels Plymouth Civic Centre. high up on the West Screen, as well as commissions in his In the Mayor’s Parlour. The Sea. Three screens, 1962. own right, in particular a large piece of work of the twelve Architect: Jellicoe, Ballantyne and Coleridge. apostles and two angels for a church in Westfield, New Jersey New Zealand House. (USA). However, his primary work remained the writing and London. New Zealand Coat of Arms and New Zealand Birds and Trees. Two panels, 1963. watercolour illustration of children’s books. Architect: Sir Robert Matthew, Johnson-Marshall and Partners. Following in John’s tradition was the young glass engraver Shakespeare Centre. Jenny Conway, who had learnt her skill from John and was Stratford-upon-Avon. Characters from Shakespeare. Thirteen panels, 1964. Architects: Wood and Kendrick and Williams. also able to do replacement panels for work of his which broke, in particular the panel of King Lear and Cordelia in Newcastle-upon-Tyne Civic Centre. the Shakespeare Centre, and one of the ”Sentinel“ angels at Industrial and Mythological Newcastle. Screen, 1967. Architect: George Kenyon, Newcastle City Architect. Guildford Cathedral (destroyed by vandals in 2010). Marigold Hutton continued to lecture on her husband’s work Glass Engravings Overseas after his death and to maintain the archive of his remaining National Library of Canada. drawings, paintings, glass engravings and prints. Ottawa. Historical and literary figures. Thirty-seven panels, 1965-7. Architects: Mathers and Haldenby. St Paul’s Cathedral. Wellington, New Zealand. Crossed pairs of flying angels. Five windows, 1973. Architect: Cecil Wood, subsequently King and Dawson. Thanks-Giving Square Chapel. Dallas, Texas, USA. The Dove. Single panel, 1974. Architect: Philip Johnson. National Art Gallery. Wellington, New Zealand. The Muses Erato and Terpsichore. Two panels, 1975. First Christian Church Tyler, Texas, USA. The Four Evangelists and St Paul. Five windows, 1976-7. Donors: Mr Tony Howard and Mrs Gladys Howard.
Arrangement of figures in the Great West Screen Angel Abraham Moses David Elijah Isaiah Angel Flying Angels St Michael Flying Angels St St St St Virgin The John St St St Matthew Mark Luke John Mary the Baptist Peter James Paul Flying Angels St St St St St St St St St George Andrew Patrick David Alban Columba Augustine Oswald Aidan Flying Angels St St St St St Margaret St St St Thomas Cuthbert Chad Hilda Bede of Scotland Alfred Osburga à Becket Angel Angel of the Angel of Angel of Angel with the Angel with the Gabriel Agony in the Resurrection Ascension Eternal Gospel Measuring Rod Garden