The mosaics at St John's were made by James Powell and Sons of the Whitefriars Foundry, London between 1888 and 1915.
Whitefriars produced hand made glass which was exported throughout Europe. James Powell's grandson, Harry took over the factory after the death of his grandfather.
It was Harry who developed the mosaic side of the business. He was concerned about glass produced in his foundry, which had become contaminated. He discovered that tiny specks of clay from the crucibles in which the glass was melted, was causing this contamination. He experimented and found that this waste glass could be ground to a powder and baked. This would produce a solid material with an ‘eggshell’ surface, which could be used for mosaics. The range of colours was almost unlimited.
These mosaics are made in a style known as Opus Sectile, meaning 'one piece'. Although some of the backgrounds are made with small, regular pieces of glass,, the figures are made of larger, irregular pieces. So an angel’s wing or a fold in a robe might be one piece of mosaic.
The areas of gold, in the nativity scene, for example, use a technique called ‘smalti’ in which pieces of gold foil are sandwiched between tiny pieces of glass.
The development of mosaics on biblical themes coincided with the Victorian era and the colourful and detailed pictures had great appeal. Wealthy Victorians liked to donate a mosaic either as a memorial or simply as a present to their local church and ancient churches, therefore, often have a mosaic, usually a reredos, made by Powell, installed in the Victorian era. Churches actually built in the Victorian age, like ours, would be more likely to have a collection of panels around the walls donated by enthusiastic patrons.
|If you would like to buy cards, posters or paperweights depicting our mosaics, go to www.iconart.org.uk|