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BARBER, Basil E.E. (1910-1992)

English stained glass artist and designer, Basil Edward Errington Barber (1910-1992) made few windows for Australia and even in his home country Barber is not among the well-known artists in glass.[1]

He began his career in the late 1920s when he was apprenticed in the studio and workshop of Sir Ninian Comper.  He rose to become Comper’s chief studio designer, and, among many significant commissions, was responsible for glass-painting the detailed and complex Heraldic insignia of the massive memorial window (1000 sq. ft.) in St. Stephen’s Porch, Westminster Hall of the House of Commons, London.  The window, designed by Sir Ninian Comper and dedicated by Winston Churchill, replaced the original Pugin window that was destroyed during a Second World War bombing raid in December 1940.

In the early 1950s Barber opened an independent studio.  Churches were re-building after the ravages of the war and many new windows were commissioned as war memorials.  His commissions included the east and west windows of St. John the Baptist, Eltham, London, completed in 1952.[2]  As at Westminster Hall, few windows survived the Second World War and one window was made from glass fragments, possibly as a potent reminder of the destruction caused by war.   Barber’s windows are distinctive for his understanding of light that he believed should imbue a church’s interior with an uplifting atmosphere reminiscent of the 15th century and in marked contrast to the dim religious light that pervaded much of nineteenth-century Victorian glass.

Barber St Augustine Swindon

Figure 1: Basil EE Barber, St. Peter, St. Augustine’s Parish Church, Even Swindon, Wiltshire, (UK) 1955.  D&M Ball, September 2004. See Duncan and Mandy Ball website: http://www.oodwooc.co.uk/ph_sw_august_sg1.htm

For a (copyright) image of Barber’s three-light William Tyndale Window at Whiteladies Road Baptist Church, Clifton see http://www.alamy.com/stock-photo/whiteladies-road-bristol.html

In 1954, Barber moved to Bristol to work at Joseph Bell & Son, a firm that had been established in 1840, but passed from family hands in 1923 when the business was sold to Arnold Robinson.  After Robinson’s death in 1955, Barber managed the business, continuing until 1959 when Arnold’s son, Geoffrey Robinson, took over the business.  Comper, Robinson and Barber came together again many year later in the early 1970s when Barber was called upon by Robinson to undertake the mammoth task of re-ordering several 1905-6 Comper windows for the Scottish Episcopal Church of St. Magnus, Lerwick on the Shetland Islands.[3] The windows had been stored after their removal from the Chapel of the Sisters of Charity in 1968.  Barber spent 450 hours, preparing and painting diamond quarries and borders sympathetic to Comper’s style and thus creating a ‘most authentic reconstruction’.[4]  Robinson retired and the firm closed in 1996.[5]

Barber fulfilled more than 50 independent commissions, mainly around the city of Bristol and the Somerset region in the 1950s and 1960s.[6]  His exemplary skills were recognised by his peers when he was elected as an Associate (c.1954) and then a Fellow of the British Society of Master Glass-Painters (1956).  In Australia in 1977 Basil Barber was invited by Klaus Zimmer as a visiting lecturer in design and glass-painting at Caulfield Institute of Technology (now Monash University), Victoria, where his influence was soon felt.[7]

Joseph Burke, Professor of Fine Arts at the University of Melbourne recommended and encouraged Barber which led to commissions for Australian clients, including a roundel for the Australian Academy of the Humanities, commissioned by Honorary Fellow of the Academy, Kenneth Myer.[8]  Barber was not only a highly skilled glass-painter but also a noted authority on heraldry, as exemplified by his interpretation of the Academy’s Coat of Arms and Crest in the roundel.

Barber Basil EE Roundel Aust College Humanities

Figure 2: Basil EE Barber, Heraldic stained glass roundel, Australian Academy of the Humanities, n.d.

His skills in heraldic symbolism were again to the fore when he was commissioned by the trading firm, Heine Brothers for a panel based on a family tapestry.  The panel represented the history of the Heine family in Hamburg and was made as a gift from the Heine sons to their father.  It was installed in the firm’s Queens Road, Melbourne headquarters where was artificially lit.  Sadly, a window commissioned by the Baillieu family for the Church of the Good Shepherd, Mount Macedon (Vic) was lost in the Ash Wednesday bushfires in February 1983.

A single window at St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Box Hill (Vic) was installed in 1979, thought to be the first of a full cycle devised in conjunction with the incumbent, the Reverend James Robertson Senior.[9]   Instead it became Rev. Senior and his wife Jean’s gift to the Parish when they left for Inverloch in 1976.  The subject of the design, selected by Senior, was the great Church of England scholar Rev. Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) who was closely involved with the English translation of the King James Bible.

Box Hill St Peters Anglican (4)                         Box Hill St Peters Anglican (5)

Figure 3: Basil EE Barber, St. Anselm and Lancelot Andrewes (and detail of lower section), St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Box Hill (Vic), 1979

This window is dedicated to the glory of GOD as a thank-offering from James Robertson Senior and his wife Ivy Jean Senior for the opportunities of worship & service in this parish over forty years. A.D. 1979.  [Note the tiny beehive rebus in the lower right hand corner, near the dedicatory inscription]

Basil Barber upheld the finest artistic and Christian traditions of the art of glass painting throughout his life, dedicated to producing his most thoughtful and resolved work for every commission, despite the constraints imposed by clients.  His humble and retiring nature is possibly why his art is not better known in Britain, and Australia.  In his later years he undertook small commissions and used his extensive skills to conserve some of Britain’s historic stained glass.

After a full life dedicated to stained glass, he retired about 1990.  However, he did not retire from art at all, continuing to fill his sketchbooks with drawings from the life around him, and to teach children at the local primary school.  He founded ‘The What’s-It-Club’ for seniors where he promoted the idea that expressing oneself through art should be fun, even if the drawings were unidentifiable to others.

Barber Basil EE Age 1977 cropped

Figure 4: Basil EE Barber, from the Age, Melbourne, 2 July, 1977

 

[1] I am indebted to the generous assistance of Basil Barber’s daughter, Pam Crozier, for her recollections and knowledge of her father’s work, which has added enormously this entry, and to Helen Walsh for putting the two of us in touch.  Some details of Barber’s career and references from the archive deposited by his daughters and published in Elizabeth Lomas, Guide to the Archive of Art and Design, Victoria & Albert Museum. London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers in association with the Victoria and Albert Museum, c2001.  See V&A files: AAD/1994/12; AAD/2003/17.

[2] http://elthamchurch.org.uk/

[3] Journal of the British Society of Master Glass-Painters, 1973-74, XV ii, p. 61.

[4] ibid.

[5] The author has found only one installation attributed to Geoffrey Robinson in Australia: a pair of lights at St. Luke’s Anglican Church, Derrinallum (Vic.), in memory of James Fairbairn, Federal Minister for Air and Civil Aviation who was tragically killed in an air crash near Canberra in 1940.

[6] Material held by the V&A Archives include many of his original drawings, designs and drafts for church windows across England, including St. Andrew’s Church, Compton Bishop, Axbridge, Christ Church at Pill, Somerset, St. John’s Church, Spalding in Lincolnshire, St. Aldhelm’s Church, Bedminster, Bristol, All Saints’ Church, West Dulwich, Redland Park Congregational Church and St. Saviour’s Church, Weston-super-Mare.  Information kindly forwarded by Pam Crozier by email, 30 January 2017.

[7] See Nancy Dexter, ‘Reflections of a glass worker’, Age, 2 July 1977, forwarded by Pam Crozier by email, 30 January 2017 .  Communication with Helen Walsh.

[8] http://www.humanities.org.au/

[9] Communication with Pam Crozier by email, 26 September 2016.

ATKINSON Bros.

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