A life in colour

PUBLISHED: 14:00 15 June 2009 | UPDATED: 16:02 20 February 2013

Stained glass

Stained glass

Janet Sewell of Divine Inspiration takes a look the stained glass windows created by Charles Eamer-Kempe.

Janet Sewell of Divine Inspiration takes a look the stained glass windows created by Charles Eamer-Kempe.

Something quite thrilling happens when a shaft of light streams through a stained glass window throwing a kaleidoscope of colour onto ancient stone. The natural sunlight married with beautiful man-made material and design can create something truly breathtaking. Centuries ago this effect would have been inspirational to those who had little or no colour in their daily lives and when the use of stained glass in churches was a tool of Christian teaching for those who couldn't read or write.

Churches across Britain have recently been celebrating the work of a Victorian stained glass designer whose artistry can be seen in many buildings in our County - Charles Eamer-Kempe, a man with his heart set on a life serving God. A speech impediment prevented him from taking up his calling so he decided that 'if he was not permitted to minister in the Sanctuary he would use his talents to adorn it.'

He began his career studying architecture with his friend George Bodley. He was a capable pupil and was soon given responsibility for decorating the walls and ceilings of churches that his friend was refurbishing. It became clear that he had a gift for managing and using light and this encouraged him to explore the potential for designing in stained glass.

His choice and use of colour was groundbreaking compared to most stained glass artists. The delicate and intricate detail of his figures, especially the finely drawn facial features and their surroundings are unlike anything that had been created before. His use of silver stain on glass gives it a warm, yellow tinge. This was a fresh and innovative technique and his work quickly gained in popularity. His early death did not prevent his studio from continuing his style into the Twentieth Century.

St Peters in Binton, a village between Stratford and Alcester, contains three Kempe windows but it is the large west window, a memorial to Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his companions commemorating his fateful Antarctic expedition, that is unique. The window tells his story from his joyful and excited departure through the disappointment of finding that they had been beaten to the South Pole by the Norwegian expedition. It captures the scene of devastation of the loss of lives and the creation of a death tent, through to the construction of a stone cairn under which the bodies were buried, marking their final resting place. The four panels reflect the huge emotions of the entire trip. Biblical scenes of sacrifice and bravery compliment the modern figures and acorns and oak leaves adorn the frames of the panels symbolising strength, durability, faith and endurance.

The well known story is touching and tragic and the artists of the Kempe studio have expertly captured the emotion on the faces of the brave explorers.

Just a few miles away, at St. Mary the Virgin in Kinwarton, there is more Kempe to enjoy. The window this time is tucked away to the left of the altar commemorating Richard Seymour, a Rector of Kinwarton for 42 years and later a Canon of Worcester Cathedral. He was a remarkable man, rescuing the church buildings, setting up a school at Great Alne and keeping a diary of his daily life at Kinwarton. This diary is held in the Warwickshire Records Office for anyone to see. The Saints depicted here are St. George, on the left and St. Richard of Chichester on the right. You'll see the use of peacock feathers here - an image used in medieval glass as a symbol of resurrection and immortality. It is especially appropriate here in St. Mary's as they are also often seen representing the Virgin.

In all Kempe and Kempe Studio windows there is a signature. Kempe used a wheat-sheaf motif in his windows, usually found in the lower left-hand side. Later a tower symbol was inserted on the wheat-sheaf indicating work carried out after his death.

Across to the east side of Warwickshire in St. Mary's, Clifton on Dunsmore, there is another, very recently restored, Kempe window. The dedication is to a young boy called Norman Muntz, a son of a local businessman who tragically died whilst still a schoolboy at Eton. The dedication reads 'In memory of Norman Albert Muntz whom God summoned before his boyhood was ended. His friends, who loved him in life and mourned him in death, dedicate this window. AD 1895.'

The robes of the depicted Saints, Paul on the right and the much younger Timothy on the left, are so realistic, the folds of the cloth being richly embroidered and the faces of the saints so beautifully painted.

We have a list of all examples of Kempe to be found in our Diocese. If you would like more information about where you can find them please contact us at Divine Inspiration on 024 7652 1346.

Divine Inspiration is funded by English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund www.divine-inspiration.org.uk


Binton window Windows 02. Caption to read. 'The Eamer Kempe window at Binton commemorating the fateful Scott expedition to Antarctic in 1912'

windows 11. Caption to read 'The window at Kinwarton with St. George on the left and St. Richard of Chichester on the right.'

Insert Windows 05. Caption to read 'The Kempe signature depicted on all the windows features a wheatsheaf motif'

Windows 14 (detail of this only so it needs cropping, to show the face in the left hand panel) The Muntz window at Clifton.

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