Lawrence Lee: Stained-glass artist acclaimed for his work on Coventry Cathedral
Monday 25 July 2011
Lawrence Lee was a stained-glass artist whose work brought light and colour to churches and cathedrals around the world, including remarkable large-scale projects at Coventry, Southwark and Guildford.
Lee was born in London in 1909, grew up in Weybridge and studied at Kingston School of Art. He graduated in 1930 from the Royal College of Art, where he studied under Martin Travers, another of the great stained-glass artists of the 20th century, and became his studio assistant. Travers had an enormous influence on Lee and his contemporaries in combining modernism with glass-making traditions dating back to the Middle Ages. Lee remained linked to the RCA, later becoming its Head of Stained Glass (1948-1968), following in Travers' footsteps.
In 1956 the architect Sir Basil Spence commissioned stained-glass windows as part of the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral, destroyed by wartime bombing in 1940. Spence took a holistic approach, noting in an academic paper at the time that, "I am against the inclusion of stained glass as an afterthought, and I believe that the architect as leader of the team should collaborate at the earliest possible stage with his engineers and artists." Lee was one of three glass artists who designed the series of 10 nave windows, representing a pilgrimage through life, from infancy to maturity and fulfilment in the afterworld. John Willis, archivist and art historian at Coventry Cathedral, observes that "...Lee, with the two other members of the team, Keith New and Geoffrey Clarke, created a symbolic language of colour and light, combining figurative motifs and abstract forms in a way that is at once beautiful and spiritually moving in its expression of the Christian message."
Coventry established Lee's reputation and led to a wide range of projects, nationally and internationally. The magnificent three-panel south window of Southwark Cathedral's retrochoir was completed by Lee in 1959. The brief in this case was to show scenes from the history and rebuilding of the cathedral. Lee's designs represent religious figures but also craftsmen, such as a carpenter and a glazier on a ladder, providing a striking tribute to the builder Thomas Rider, who had funded an earlier reconstruction of the nave in 1895.
Lee was a skilled practitioner, theoretician and teacher who never lost sight of the need to pass on his immense knowledge to the next generation of glaziers, through formal education and in a series of three books on the subject. Stained Glass (1967) was published by Oxford University Press in its Handbooks for Artists series. Aware of the needs of conservation in stained-glass work, and ever conscious of the possibilities of modern technologies in his art, he made a practical plea to scientists in this text, asking for help in researching "...the use of modern industrial resins in the services of art and architecture where rather different problems occur from those that have been already solved for industry." His advice to students included the wise words that images of doves in stained glass, representing the Holy Spirit, should not look like stuffed pigeons.
He followed his first book with Stained Glass, An Illustrated Guide to the World of Stained Glass (1976), in conjunction with George Seddon and Francis Stephens and The Appreciation of Stained Glass (1977), which concentrated less on the pedagogy and more on the history and enjoyment of the art.
Lee's creations in glass were not restricted to religious settings. For example, he also produced abstract designs of windows for the Royal Society of Chemistry at Burlington House and a panel for the Worshipful Company of Glaziers and Painters of Glass (1975).
In 1974 he was elected Master of the Worshipful Company of Stained Glass Artists, and was a Fellow of the British Society of Master Glass Painters. Never forgetting his own time as an artist's assistant, Lee was one of the few glaziers to recognise the work of his assistants by including their initials within his own monogram signature.
Lawrence Lee, stained-glass artist: born London 18 September 1909; married 1940 Dorothy (two sons); died 25 April 2011.
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