Alan Younger

Stained-glass artist and designer
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Alan Younger's legacy in stained glass is not only in his completed commissions in numerous important public buildings, but also by the support he gave to the craft itself and to artists who sought his advice.

Alan Christopher Wyrill Younger, stained-glass artist: born London 13 March 1933; married (two daughters); died London 12 May 2004.

Alan Younger's legacy in stained glass is not only in his completed commissions in numerous important public buildings, but also by the support he gave to the craft itself and to artists who sought his advice.

Younger was an active Fellow and Vice-President of the British Society of Master Glass Painters and he felt a duty to preserve the traditions and skills of the craft at a time when they are under threat. He knew that excellent contemporary design requires an historical platform to perform at its best.

Born and educated in south-east London, Younger began his professional career in 1953 as assistant to Carl Edwards, working on large-scale commissions that included the House of Lords Debating Chamber, the Temple Church and Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral. This experience, by his own admission, helped when the opportunity came to design and make the large Rose Window in St Albans Cathedral in 1989 and the East Window in the Henry VII Chapel at Westminster Abbey, installed in October 2000.

In 1956 he was inspired by an exhibition for the stained glass in Coventry Cathedral and three years later became an assistant to Lawrence Lee, Professor of Stained Glass at the Royal College of Art, who had supervised the making of the nave windows. Younger's time with Edwards had instructed him in the running of a studio and what was expected of a professional designer and under Lee he learnt self-expression as a glass painter and craftsman.

After a working relationship lasting six years, Younger left Lee's studio to concentrate on designing new glass, while supporting his young family by teaching art. He was a highly competitive man with a steely ambition focused on making his own designs, and the opportunity to win his first commission came in 1966, for Haselbech Church, Northamptonshire. The following year he made the East Window at Boldre Church, Hampshire, demonstrating the full range of his extensive craft knowledge: flashed glass melted expertly with hydrofluoric acid, a variety of tonal textures in the painting and a glass palette that ranged from off rubies to flashed greys applied with silver stain, the whole structurally interlaced with passages of tinted whites.

Younger's first windows were made at the Fulham Glass House, using the Lowndes & Drury studio rented at that time by Keith New, who had worked with Lee and Geoffrey Clarke on the Coventry windows. Later, he moved to Crystal Palace where he set up his own small studio at the bottom of the garden.

Alan Younger chose not to employ assistants because he wished to cut and paint all of the glass himself. To watch him dabbing at the surface of the glass with tissues or his badger brushes, or sticking out the glass paint with a needle or the tips of his fingers, made one realise that it would have been impossible for anyone else to make up his designs. A master of improvisation, he combined imperfections in the glass with glass painting "accidents" to manipulate the transmission of daylight in precisely the manner he wanted.

Younger's other major ecclesiastical commissions are to be found in Durham and Chester Cathedrals while his major secular work is confined to Saudi Arabia. But one humble window demonstrates the qualities of the man admired by those who knew him best. Close to his cottage in Worth Matravers, Dorset, is St Aldhelm's, described by Simon Jenkins as a "wild clifftop chapel", a building much loved by Alan Younger in which there is a single lancet light.

After it was damaged in a violent storm, he produced a design for a replacement painted window that was rejected by the local Diocesan Advisory Committee, who insisted it be replaced with plain white glass. Younger possessed a sublime calmness in circumnavigating any challenge and his eyes twinkled when he arrived at my studio one morning with the intention of using my glass stock. He wanted some "slab" or "bottle glass" in a variety of white tints that would hold and diffuse the sunlight and we spent the day searching for some late-19th-century "Prior's Glass" which he decided to use in whatever shape he found it in - adapting his design to fit the glass.

This small window, installed in 2000, is testament to a master glazier displaying a complete knowledge of the inherent qualities of the materials with which he worked and an outstanding ability to produce contemporary glazing which sits perfectly at ease in a medieval setting. The glass captures the light, either glowing or sparkling as the design fluctuates constantly, along with the mood of the sky and landscape, from slate grey to blood-red sunset.

Caroline Benyon

Comments