Northamptonshire's Hidden Art Treasures.
February 11 2016
Looking at art is one way of listening to God.
Sister Wendy Beckett.
In Northamptonshire we have some great galleries which often show the artwork of local, talented artists. In Kettering there is the Alfred East Art Gallery, built in 1913, and then there is the Northampton Museum and art gallery where I have exhibited. They hold permanent collections of local and national importance as well as have regular shows.
Thinking about this recently, I decided to seek out the other art collections, which are both permanent, precious and a great heritage for people in Northamptonshire. Already knowing a few places to visit I decided to start at All Hallows Church in Wellingborough where I knew treasure was to be found in abundant light and colour.
Most of my childhood was spent in Wellingborough and I remember on market days the bells from All Hallows ringing out over the town and somehow embracing all the busy people in the area together. But, what I didn't know about then, was the fantastic and contemporary stained glass windows which send intense waves of colour into the building.
John Piper's Art in Wellingborough!
On my visit I saw these windows, which John Piper was commissioned to design in the 1960's by an inspired vicar called Fr Malcolm Mathuen Clarke (1908-2003).
Fr Clarke,started his ministry as curate at St Mathews Parish Church, Northampton in 1939 and would have known Fr Walter Hussey (1909-1985) who had a great fondness for the arts.
John Piper, who is well known for his painting of Coventry cathedral, whilst working as an official war artist 1940-42, is one my favourite artists. His use of different materials, colours and textures is really inspiring, but to find his work in my home town is wonderful!
Discovering John Piper Links to Henry Moore and even more!
This discovery in Wellingborough then linked Northampton's St Mathews Parish Church and more outstanding art! When I visited St Mathews I was given a welcome leaflet which shows a painting made by Piper - more evidence of the link between the churches!
Visiting St Mathews was another exciting journey of discovery for me. when I first viewed the famous Northampton 'Madonna and Child' by Henry Moore, 'Crucifixion' by Graham Sutherland and Malcolm Pollards 'Risen Christ'.
A Rich Musical History Thanks to Fr Walter Hussey.
Also the church has a rich musical history. Walter Hussey commissioned works by Benjamin Britten, Malcolm Arnold and many more! John Piper also designed the sets for six of Britten's première opera productions -wow! Malcolm Arnold wrote the music for films such as 'The Bridge over the River Kwai' and has a school named after him here in Northampton.
Beer Empire to Heavenly Brilliance in Phipsville.
The Church of St Mathew was built on land and funds donated by the Phips family who owned the Northampton beer empire which is now the site of the Carlsberg brewery. If you visit the Malt Shovel Pub nearby you can see lots of old memorabilia from the Phips brewery and have a nice pint of beer of course!
Walter Hussey who suceeded his father was the parish priest in the 1930 - 40's for 13 years and was determined to build a bridge between church and contemporary arts. He commissioned modernist artworks through his connections in the art world at a very low cost. These included the works from Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland.
A Great Turning Point in Henry Moore's Sculpture.
The Northampton Madonna and Child by Henry Moore was an absolute delight to see. The knees in particular were worn and shiny from countless people touching them and making contact with the icon. Ron Hutt who showed me around, told me that children often like to touch the sculpture. which is a testament to the sculptures allure.
When Moore was first asked to carve the sculpture he said, " When I was first asked to carve a Madonna and Child for St Mathew's, although I was very interested I wasn't sure whether I could do it, or whether I wanted to do it."
Polished Knees, Maternity and Simplicity
Part of the challenge Moore considered was how to show the difference between Mother and Child and Madonna and Child. He believed the later should display "austerity, nobility" and a "touch of grandeur", which is missing in the every day Mother and Child.
But I think that it is still a very human and accessible piece as shown by the touch polished knee's. Its the sensitivity of the curves and the subject which we can relate to that invites a touch or stroke and provokes the desire to get close and connect.
Below are some photographs I found in the book by Herbert Read, Henry Moore (Thames and Hudson). They show the "sketch models" and the final work in progress. This important piece, led Moore in a new direction with his work and he produced a series based on Family Groups 1945-49 and then later the King and Queen 1952-53.
Christ's Horrific Agony and The Concentration Camps
The first painting I saw when I arrived at St Mathew's was Graham Sutherland's, Crucifixion, 1946. This large painting was commissioned by Fr Walter Hussey when Sutherland came to the church with Moore to install the Northampton Madonna. Sutherland made a series of paintings in preparation for this work which are held at the Tate Gallery in London.
At the time photographs had been released showing the dead and starving Concentration Camp victims, which Sutherland wanted to show in the suffering of Christ on the Cross. He also took inspiration from the Crucifixion of Grunewald (the Isenheim altarpiece), a work that shows Christ's horrific agony on the cross and was made during a time of the plague - 1512-1516.
The Risen Christ by Malcolm Pollard. 1992
This beautiful and striking sculpture was a real surprise for me, as I did not know about it before my visit. When I was a student at Nene Art College Malcolm Pollard taught us sculpture for a short time, so I was delighted to find this treasure. It was installed in 1992 and is made from Jelutong wood and hung from yacht wire.
The figure gives the illusion it is literally hanging on the cross behind it, but as you move forward you see that Christ is actually separated from the cross and is 'floating' in front of it. Ron Hutt told me during my visit about how the figure often catches his eye or makes him look twice. During the services, it gently moves as the air rises from the heating system, which I found really inspiring.
My own work, made for the Church I attend in Irthlingborough was made following my baptism in 2013. I made this cross painting using bible quotes, prayers and poems. Read more about it on my special blog post.
All photographs at St Mathew's were made and published with the permission of the Vicar and Churchwardens of St Matthew’s Parish Church, Northampton.
Moore quotation from Henry Moore, by Herbert Read. Thames and Hudson, 1965.
Information on Phips Family Brewery.
More inspirational Churches Northamptonshire
- Brixworth, All Saints Church - All Saints church in Brixworth is the largest Saxon church in England, indeed it is probably the largest Anglo-Saxon building of any kind. It was founded around 680 AD by monks from Peterborough, and unlike some early churches, has retained much of its Saxon architecture.
- Castle Ashby, St Mary Magdalene Church. The parish church of Castle Ashby its a lovely medieval building and is well worth a visit in its own right.
- Earls Barton Saxon Church. One of the finest Saxon churches in Britain. The tower of All Saints dates to 970AD and is decorated with wonderful pilaster stonework, with both rounded and triangular windows.
- Fotheringhay, St Mary & All Saints Church. Once part of a college founded by the 1st Duke of York, this wonderful 15th century church boasts Yorkist tombs and associations with Richard III, who was born at the nearby castle and may have been baptised here.
- Great Brington, St Mary's Church. This attractive 13th century church is famed for the Spencer Chapel, with the ornate tombs of 19 generations of Spencers from nearby Althorp Park.
- Northampton, St Peter's Church. One of the finest Norman churches in Northamptonshire, St Peter's was built around 1150, but there is evidence of a still earlier church in this spot. One of the most interesting features are the carved capitals in the nave, which are wonderfully decorated with carved foliage, birds, beasts, and human faces.
These were discovered at Britainexpress.com