Although the art seemed to have a glowing future in Australia, and in Sydney in particular, in the early years of the twentieth century, World War I, the Depression of the 1930s, and World War II all had negative effects. While ecclesiastical commissions never entirely dried up, stained glass was in decline by the 1940s. Architects had lost touch with the art, resulting in it no longer being considered an integral part of architecture as it had been during the late nineteenth century.
A revival began in the 1960s through the emergence of one-person studios. The Sydney artist Philip Handel, son of Alfred Handel, was a prolific designer of church windows.
The Melbourne artist David Wright won an award to mark Australia's bicentenary in 1988 for his window in St James's Anglican church, King Street, Sydney. This visionary work forms three walls of a side chapel and conveys symbolically, and in the colours of the Australian outback, the Creation, the Fall, and the Crucifixion.
The most innovative designer from this period, especially for her imaginative introduction of Australian themes into church windows, was the South Australian artist, Cedar Prest (born 1940). In Sydney, her work may be seen in theLibrary of Macquarie University, North Sydney Shopping World, St Kevin's Catholic church, Eastwood, and the Sydney International Airport, where her wall of stained glass, High Tide East Coast, was installed in the arrivals hall in 1992.
Despite the whims of its history, stained glass is fortunately long-lived – the glorious windows of Europe's medieval cathedrals are still intact and vibrant after eight centuries. So long as Sydney's stained glass windows and the buildings which house them are protected, stained glass will have an enduring and glowing future in the city. Next time you get the chance, wander among the gentle glow of these beautifully crafted creations and ask yourself, “Hmmm, I wonder how they keep them clean?”
Thanks to Beverley Sherry for the accuracy of the historical references.
* The award-winning "Creation Window", designed by Australian artist David Wright, can be found in the St James’ Church, King St. Sydney, and represents the interaction of earth, air, fire and water, symbolic of the action of the Spirit in creation, in life and in rebirth in Christ.
** St James’ Church is the oldest church building in the City of Sydney.