John Hardman and Company: Pugin's glasspainters

April 2009 | A human dynamo who burned himself out at the age of forty, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin is generally acknowledged as the most influential architect, designer, and propagandist of the nineteenth-century Gothic revival in England.1 Less well known are the entrepreneurs and manufacturers without whom Pugin could not have translated his medieval dreams into reality, and who spread his principles of Gothic design across the world. Chief among those who produced items for the American ecclesiastical market was John Hardman Jr. (1811–1867), a member of a Birmingham metalworking family who, with Pugin’s enthusiastic support, established the Mediaeval Art Manufactory in 1838 to make a wide range of church metal-work exclusively to Pugin’s designs (see Fig. 7). Better known simply as John Hardman and Company, the firm began in 1845 to design and manufacture stained-glass windows, motivated once again by Pugin, who made detailed studies of medieval stained glass in England and Europe (see Fig. 8).2 A showroom designed by Pugin was established in Birmingham’s Great Charles Street to display the full range of Hardman’s products, and printed catalogues were also produced so that goods could be ordered by mail.

Hardman and Pugin became close friends, with Hardman sharing in the triumphs and tragedies of the architect’s short but brilliant career. Within ten years of the formation of the company, Hardman’s undertook all of the metalwork and stained glass for that most iconic of Gothic revival buildings, the New Palace of Westminster (see Fig. 1). Pugin, who assisted the architect Charles Barry on the new buildings following the 1834 fire, naturally turned to Hardman to supply interior furnishings to his prolific designs. The Hardman archive contains many hundreds of drawings sent by Pugin to the Hardman workshops for stained glass and metalwork, which included jeweled ornaments for the royal throne and the two-ton brass gates at the entrance to the House of Lords.3 At the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, the Mediaeval Court created by Pugin and Hardman enthralled over six million visitors with its array of neo-medieval art (see Fig. 5).

In the later nineteenth century Pugin’s Gothic dream was firmly planted on American soil by British architects who immigrated to the United States, such as Patrick W. Ford (1848–1900), Patrick Charles Keely (1816–1896), and Frederick Clarke Withers, for whom Pugin’s sons Edward W. (1834–1875) and Peter Paul (1851–1904) designed furnishings. These include the magnificent altarpiece designed by Peter Paul in 1882 for Ford’s Sacred Heart Church in East Cambridge, Massachusetts (1873–1883), for which Hardman’s made the tabernacle.4

It was Hardman’s display at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876 of a large window depicting Jesus in the house of Mary and Martha at Bethany (Fig. 6) that drew the firm’s glassmaking skills to the attention of American clergymen, church builders, and other patrons. The window was designed by Hardman’s nephew John Hardman Powell, who had married Pugin’s eldest daughter Anne in 1850 and became the firm’s chief designer, thus keeping the Pugin flame alive to the end of the century. After the exhibition the window was returned to England and installed in Saint Mary the Virgin, the parish church at Saint Neots, near Cambridge, but it had served its purpose.

From this time forward the number of windows executed by Hardman’s for American churches grew steadily. The greatest concentration of work was in the eastern states of New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, where Catholicism was strongest, although many Episcopal churches also ordered Hardman glass, including Saint Ignatius of Antioch Church in New York, which placed eight orders between 1900 and 1921, and the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in New York, which placed two orders in 1908 and 1909 (see Fig. 9). The latter, arguably one of the most prestigious churches in the United States, was then being remodeled by the leading American Gothic architect Ralph Adams Cram (1863–1942), who was an ardent admirer of Pugin.

[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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