The Harry Clarke Studio and the Windows of Sacred Heart Church
By Tony Bishop
The life and work of Harry Clarke (1889 – 1931)
Harry Clarke of Dublin is widely regarded as one of the greatest glass craftsmen of modern times, working on both religious and secular themes.
At the early age of 21, his first entry to the Board of Education National Competition, The Consecration of St. Mel, Bishop of Longford, by St. Patrick won the Gold Medal in the stained glass competition. His education continued at the Dublin School of Art and he won the Gold Medal for stained glass in the National Competition three times. His window depicting the Baptism of St Patrick was selected for exhibition in the Louvre in 1914.
After his three-year course, he traveled to London where he began illustrating books to pay the bills. He was strongly influenced by the passing Art Nouveau and coming Art Deco movements. Much of his book illustrative work was then, and still is, very highly regarded. His first published book illustrations were for Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tales of Mystery and Imagination”. Later he provided the illustrations for Goethe’s “Faust”. He was also a textile designer and created beautiful linen patterns.
However, he became increasingly in demand for his preferred field, stained glass, both because of his designs, influenced by the French symbolist movement, and also the intricate jewelled technique which he had developed. Evidence of both of these aspects of his skills can be seen in the Sacred Heart Church windows.
His first stained glass commission was for the windows of the Honan Chapel in the University College Cork, completed in 1917. Thereafter, in spite of ill health, he carried out over forty commissions for churches, plus numerous other works, many of which were secular. Although most of his greatest stained glass work is found in Ireland, his contacts with the Arts and Crafts movement secured him a number of major English commissions. However, his masterpiece is generally considered to be the Geneva Window, commissioned in 1927 for the League of Nations headquarters in Geneva.
Ill-health plagued Harry Clarke for much of the last years of his life. He worked at a feverish pace, creating stained glass works and producing book illustrations while trying to maintain his father’s decoration studio which he and his brother Walter ran after their father’s death in 1921. In 1930 Harry Clarke split the stained glass business off from the decorating business and closed the latter. Walter died in July 1930 and Harry worked even harder, despite his own frailty, to inspire confidence in his newly formed stained glass studio.
Harry Clarke died of tuberculosis in Switzerland in early 1931 while trying to recuperate from his efforts. He was 41 and had by then earned worldwide renown.
The Harry Clarke Studio finally closed in 1975.
Sacred Heart Church
The windows that you see here in the Sacred Heart Church were commissioned from the Harry Clarke Studio, Dublin in the early 1950s. A considerable amount of work had already been carried out on the church, including the inlaying of the mosaics, and Father Crowley had now begun to think about stained glass windows.
A priest from West Cork, Father William Young, whilst on a visit to the presbytery, offered to pay for one window. In his memory, the window of St William of York was suggested. Mr Pasquale Lanny donated the centre window depicting the Crucifixion. As a tribute to the Sisters of Charity who had served the parish so faithfully, a picture of Our Lady and Catherine Labouré became an obvious choice. The remaining pictures suggested themselves. The Sacred Heart, Saint Margaret Mary, and the York housewife, St Margaret Clitheroe formed the fifth window of the Sanctuary. The last of these gave her life for harbouring the hunted priests of York in the reign of Elizabeth I.
The Sanctuary windows were installed in 1953 and the praise heaped on these encouraged Father Crowley to proceed with the commissioning of further windows.
Shortly thereafter, for the price of £785, the stunningly beautiful rose window was installed, depicting the crowning of Our Lady and the surrounding symbols from the Litany of Loretto.
The rose window became widely known and the subsequent publicity provided the Harry Clarke Studio with a considerable number of commissions. Copies of the window are now found all over the world.
You will also see two angels guarding the Sanctuary in circular windows. The six small windows depicting The Good Samaritan, The Prodigal Son, The Raising of Lazarus, The Good Shepherd, Christ with the Children, and the Raising of the Daughter of Jairus were all installed in 1954. The five Baptistry windows depicting symbols of baptism were installed at the same time.
Middlesbrough, and the Sacred Heart Church in particular, are indeed fortunate to have such a fine collection of the Harry Clarke Studio’s glass work. He and his studio produced just over 130 stained glass windows; nineteen of these are here in this church.
The historical details of the commissioning and installation of the windows, as well as their descriptions, are taken from Father Crowley’s booklet “Golden Jubilee” which he produced for the jubilee celebrations in 1975.