Martin Travers

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Martin Travers stained glass window of St Patrick, 1932. In the narthex of All Saints Church, Hove, East Sussex

Martin Travers, born Howard Martin Otho Travers in Margate, Kent on 19 February 1886, died in London on 25 July 1948, was an English church artist and designer.

Travers was educated at Tonbridge School, entered the Royal College of Art in 1904, and took his Diploma in Architecture in 1908. At the RCA his teachers included Edward Johnston (calligraphy), William Lethaby (design), Arthur Beresford Pite (architecture), and Christopher Whall (stained glass). He worked for a time until 1911 as an assistant to Ninian Comper.

Martin Travers was one of the most influential British stained glass artists of the twentieth century. From around 1918 until 1926 he rented a studio at Lowndes & Drury's The Glass House, Fulham. Lowndes & Drury continued to cut, fire, glaze and fix his windows after he established his own studio. Travers was awarded the Grand Prix for stained glass at the 1925 International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts in Paris (French: Exposition internationale des Arts décoratifs et industriels modernes) – the exhibition which gave rise to the term 'Art Deco'. That same year he succeeded Christopher Whall, who died in 1924, as chief instructor in stained glass at the Royal College of Art; a position he held until his death.

Travers' early glass, like the five-light and tracery east window at St Andrew's, Catford, 1921, shows the marked influence of Christopher Whall, but he came to regard Whall's approach as over-personal. [1] Windows in his distinctive refined, eclectic style of the 1930s and '40s, subtly blending elements of 15th century glass with Arts & Crafts and other ingredients, appear at once both modern and timeless. Travers' long-standing chief assistant John E Crawford wrote that, as features of architectural decoration, his windows were designed and made to harmonise with their surroundings, and that "his glass was of no fixed period, but became one with architecture of every different period".[2] Significant large five-light and tracery windows in Travers' mature style may be seen at St George's, Headstone, Harrow, and the Great Hall of The Arts Centre, Christchurch, New Zealand (originally Canterbury College), installed in 1937 and 1938 respectively.

His agnosticism notwithstanding, Martin Travers' name is often connected with the Anglo-Catholic movement, especially the ultramontane wing which favoured a continental Baroque style of church furnishing. In the 1920s he designed and constructed a number of spectacular reredos, often employing affordable materials such as plywood, whitewood, papier mache, embossed wallpaper, and tinted varnished foil to achieve the desired effect; which has meant that some of this work has not weathered well. The most notable examples of his Baroque furnishings are in central London: the re-fashioned reredos in St Mary's, Bourne Street, Pimlico, c. 1920, and the remarkable Art Deco Churrigueresque altarpiece in St Augustine's, Queen's Gate, South Kensington, 1927. A facet of the past glory of the Anglo-Catholic Congresses depicted by John Betjeman, Travers' stage sets included a huge triptych erected in the Royal Albert Hall in 1927: such was the "Travers baroque" under which, in those "waking days", the "Faith was taught and fanned to a golden blaze".[3]

John Hayward considered Travers' later furnishings, "freed from the demands of his more extreme Anglo-Catholic patrons" to have aged better than the earlier interiors. Hayward is nonetheless clear that Travers' enduring legacy lies in his stained glass, which, he says, has much more vitality than that of his former master, Comper. He contends that this is partly due to Travers being an essentially two-dimensional artist – a quality evident in his carefully contrived altar and reredos arrangements for eastward celebration of the Liturgy: "the theatre of the proscenium arch".[4]

Interior of Emmanuel Parish Church in Leyton, built in 1934 to Travers' and Thomas F W Grant's design.

Buildings designed by Travers include St Cuthman's Church, Brighton and, in collaboration with architect Thomas F W Grant, The Good Shepherd, Carshalton, Emmanuel Parish Church, Leyton, and Holy Redeemer, Streatham Vale.

As a graphic artist he is best known for his illustrations for the booklets and cards published by the Society of SS. Peter and Paul.

Martin Travers' chief assistants were Joseph E Nuttgens (glass-painting, c 1920–1922), Francis Spear (glass painting, 1922-24), John E Crawford (glass-painting, sculpting, carving and decorating furnishings, some designing, 1924–1948), and Lawrence Lee (glass-painting, 1946–1948).

  • Rodney Warrener; Michael Yelton (2003). Martin Travers, 1886–1948: An Appreciation. Unicorn Press. ISBN 978-0-906290-70-5.
  • Michael Yelton (2016). Martin Travers: His Life and Work. Spire Books. ISBN 978-1-904965-52-7.
  1. ^ Peter Cormack, Arts & Crafts Stained Glass, 2015, Paul Mellon Centre/Yale University Press, p 280 and fn 30 p332.
  2. ^ John E Crawford, 'The Travers School of Glass', The Journal of Stained Glass, vol XIV, no 2, 1965, p 102 ff.
  3. ^ 'Anglo-Catholic Congresses', John Betjeman's Collected Poems, 1958, John Murray.
  4. ^ John Hayward, 'Martin Travers (1886-1948)', Church Building, issue 84, 2003, pp 52-54.