The name of Henry Payne crops up frequently in the story of ‘later’ Arts & Crafts stained glass (i.e. post 1900).
Though Payne (see pic right) was no mean glass artist himself, the contribution he also made in bringing through other talented glass artists, in his role as tutor at the Birmingham School of Art, was inestimable. He was, for instance, Margaret Rope’s main tutor.
Born in Birmingham himself, he seems to have committed himself, in terms of his career, to the English Midlands.
One can also see one of his finest windows, The Shepherds, at Stokesay Church, which is only twenty miles from Shrewsbury.
It was a great moment for the Margaret Rope Exhibition when the stained-glass maker and art historian, Caroline Swash, arrived. Caroline is Henry Payne’s grand-daughter, and she is writing a biography of him at the moment.
Although she was only a child at the time, she remembers the name of Margaret Rope coming up in conversation at home. Caroline believes that Marga may even have been invited to study at Henry’s workshop in St Loes in the Cotswolds, sometime after 1909 (the year that she left Birmingham Art School).
Certainly, she says he considered her “one of his best students” and that “… her (Margaret’s) way with glass is much closer to his than any of any of the other students”.
Though he was a fine illustrator as well as glass artist, Payne seems to have dedicated as much of his life to educating as to art; and for this purpose he chose Birmingham Art School, one of the most ‘gender-blind’ institutions in the country at that time.
It was he who got a glass kiln installed in the Art School so that students like Marga could do more than theoretical practice, they could (literally) get their hands dirty.
He even sought and received a three-month training with the great Christopher Whall in 1901 to ensure his knowledge of the most modern methods was up to date. (Curiously, this took place at the Lowndes & Drury workshops, run by the formidable Mary Lowndes. Ten years later, Marga herself rented a studio here.)
In the illustrative discipline, he was also influential. Another Shrewsbury-born female artist who attended Birmingham Art School, Georgie Gaskin, was allowed to work for him in the famous Madresfield Court chapel series of wall paintings. Georgie and her husband Arthur created the lovely altar cross there.
Thus, it seems likely is that Payne would not have been one to think that women were second-class citizens, and that he would have given as much attention to female students as male.
But… how influential was Payne on Marga?
Some historians even cite as evidence of Payne’s great influence on Marga that her Goblin Market (student) piece shows late Victorian/Pre-Raphaelite tendencies that he “would have approved of”. But actually, when it came to glass (as opposed to his conventional, if excellent, illustration & painting), Payne seems to abandon his Pre-Raphaelite approach, so this analysis may not be as believable as first seems.
Independent glass-making at this period is surprisingly innovative, as well as less gender-prejudiced – a long way from the horrifyingly derivative and stultified late Victorian art fashions. So Payne may have felt more ‘free’ when doing glass.
(Why glass in particular was so avant-garde compared to the rest of British art-forms is the subject of much debate).
So…. could it be the other way round? That is, that his young students – Florence Camm, AJ Davies and Margaret Rope among them – with their fiercely modernistic take on the glass craft – as much influenced him?
People in Shropshire are very fortunate to have a representative piece of Henry Payne glass, which can be found at the church in Stokesay village, St John the Baptist. St John’s is just yards from the historic tourist attraction of Stokesay Castle, and thus is open whenever the castle is open.
The two-light window is called variously The Annunciation To The Shepherds or The Vision Of The Shepherds (see details below), and shows the scene from the New Testament in which angels call shepherds to come and worship the new-born Jesus. Its approach is so far removed from the ‘Arthurian’ style of his famous Madresfield paintings one almost wonders if it is the same artist.
It is dated 1903, which is two years after Margaret Rope would have come across Payne at Birmingham Art School.
(Incidentally, showing what a small world this Birmingham School was, the dedication tablet for the window has enamels on it made by Arthur Gaskin.)
In the absence of all but anecdotal evidence we shall never know what Henry and Marga thought of each other’s work, but it does seem a good guess to say that each one would have been encouraged and heartened by the other’s commitment to innovation and even avant-gardism.
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Thanks to Caroline Swash for the use of the photo of Henry Payne