Letting in the Light: The Leonard Evetts Archive

This is an online version of the exhibition Letting in the Light: The Leonard Evetts Archive, which was on display in the Marjorie Robinson Library Rooms, Newcastle University prior to the closure of the Library due to the current Coronavirus situation.

Many thanks to creators Cathleen Burton and Paul Campbell, our placement students in Special Collections last year (2019) as part of Newcastle University’s Career Development Module.   Working on the recently acquired Leonard Evetts archive, they helped to catalogue, re-package, and research this fascinating collection. The collection and its catalogue was scheduled to be open to the public by the end of 2020, and this unfortunately may now be delayed, but in the meantime here is Cathleen and Paul’s exhibition…


This exhibition showcases the archive of world renowned artist and designer Leonard Evetts (1909 – 1997), whose archive has been donated to Newcastle University Special Collections.  A designer, painter, calligrapher, author, and teacher, Evetts is perhaps best known as a master in the design of stained glass windows.  The most prolific English church window designer of the 20th Century, he created over 400 works of stained glass in his lifetime.

Evetts firmly believed that windows should ‘let the light in’ and disliked the dark effect of the traditional Victorian windows found in many English churches.  He conceived his windows to show the play of light and shade at different times of day, with the different shifts in the weather, and even the seasonal changes in the trees and foliage surrounding his windows. 

On receiving a tentative criticism that ‘all the other windows look so dark in contrast to yours’ Evetts replied ‘Oh well, I don’t mind that as long as you’ve noticed the difference!’

Proposed design for a Memorial Window to Lieut. Hugh Walton-Wilson, Church of St John, Snod’s Edge, Northumberland
Proposed design for a Memorial Window to Lieut. Hugh Walton-Wilson, Church of St John, Snod’s Edge, Northumberland, circa 1939.

Born in Newport, South Wales, Evetts spent most of his working life in the North East – working at Newcastle University for 37 years where he was latterly the Head of the School of Design.  Although he was commissioned by churches throughout England, many wonderful examples of his work can be found locally in the cities of Newcastle and Sunderland as well as the surrounding countryside.

Plan for repair of East Window, Church of St Edmund, Sedgefield
Plan for repair of East Window, Church of St Edmund, Sedgefield, 1970.
Proposed Figure of Christ in Majesty, St Bede’s Church, Town End Farm Estate, Sunderland
Proposed Figure of Christ in Majesty, St Bede’s Church, Town End Farm Estate, Sunderland, 1968.
Proposed West Window, Church of Our Lady and Saint Oswain, Tynemouth
Proposed West Window, Church of Our Lady and Saint Oswain, Tynemouth, 1994.
Design for Newcastle General Hospital Chapel
Design for Newcastle General Hospital Chapel, 1979.

While much of Evetts’ work was commissioned within the UK, in the late 1950s and 1960s Evetts designed the windows for All Saint’s Church in Apia, Western Samoa.

Communication (by unreliable postal service!) was difficult during the project.  Several setbacks occurred, including Evetts falling ill with influenza, delays in the receipt of important information, and one case of stained glass arriving damaged.   However, the windows were eventually completed, combining images of saints and symbols of Samoa. Two of the windows were later chosen for special edition Christmas stamps on the island.

Photograph of the construction of the church, 1952, sent to Evetts before design began
Photograph of the construction of the church, 1952, sent to Evetts before design began. Evetts would create stained glass for the windows in the background.
Photograph of the stained glass window above the Alter, Evetts’ interpretation of the Last Supper
Photograph of the stained glass window above the Alter, Evetts’ interpretation of the Last Supper.
Christmas Stamps
Christmas Stamps, 1972

Although most known for his glass work, Leonard worked in many media and was a skilled watercolour artist.  These examples from the archive show how he retained his distinctive style in these works, making skillful use of colour, line and atmosphere to bring out the true essence of the scene.

Quick sketch of trees
Brinton, 1994
Sketch of a castle
Sketch of a castle, no date.
Sketch of Cruck Barn, Lydham
Cruck Barn, Lydham, 1970.

Leonard Evetts saw himself as a designer, and this is reflected in the range and scope of his work.  As his wife Phyl Evetts commented “each commission was of equal importance to him, whether designing an amusing milk carton or a crozier for a bishop. He loved a challenge and nothing was too small or too mighty for him to tackle.”

Proposed Alter Frontal, Church of St George, Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne
Proposed Alter Frontal, Church of St George, Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1988.

Proposed Alter Frontal, Cathedral Church of St Nicholas, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1989.

Leonard Evetts’ connection with Newcastle University was longstanding. After a period lecturing for the College of Art in Edinburgh, Leonard Evetts began working for King’s College Newcastle in 1937, lecturing in art and teaching students to design and produce stained glass pieces.  When in 1963 Kings College became Newcastle University, Evetts became head of the School of Design and remained in the post until retiring in 1974.

‘Soliloquy for Assiduous Grozer’.  This short poem was written by Evetts in the 1960s.  It was to tease a student who often did not cut his glass correctly, and needed to “groze” the edges to reduce its size.
‘Soliloquy for Assiduous Grozer’. This short poem was written by Evetts in the 1960s. It was to tease a student who often did not cut his glass correctly, and needed to “groze” the edges to reduce its size.
Newcastle University Shield of Arms
Newcastle University Shield of Arms.

The shield of arms was first used by Kings College in 1938, and became the shield for Newcastle University when it became independent in 1963.  This 1964 letter from G Ashley, Assistant Registrar, thanks Evetts for his help preparing the Shield of Arms.

1964 letter from G Ashley, Assistant Registrar, thanks Evetts for his help preparing the Shield of Arms

This exhibition was designed by Cathleen Burton and Paul Campbell, 2019.  Cathleen and Paul were Special Collection placement students, whilst undertaking Newcastle University’s career development module.

Many thanks to both for their dedication and hard work.

Window design, Church of Our Lady and Saint Oswain, Tynemouth
Window design, Church of Our Lady and Saint Oswain, Tynemouth, 1994.

The legacy of W.F. Kirby: inspiring two placement students

Written by Dalia Aizi, a MA Museum, Gallery and Heritage studies student, whilst on placement in Summer 2019.

Early on in our placements at Special Collections, whilst doing research for a new exhibition, we came across a beautifully illustrated book titled European Butterflies and Moths. Upon seeing the plates and reading the texts, we were inspired to create ‘The Beauty of Science: Seeing Art in the Entomological World’. We decided to create an exhibition which celebrates the artistic aspects of science books, which are often overlooked.  

The life of W.F. Kirby

Born in Leicester in 1844, Kirby found a deep interest for butterflies at a very young age, which continued into his adult life. After his father’s death and the family’s move to Brighton, he became more involved in the entomological world, joining the Brighton and Sussex Entomological Society before he moved to Dublin in 1867. While there, he became an established and famous entomologist after his book, A Synonymic Catalogue of diurnal Lepidoptera was published.

European Butterflies and Moths

In 1882, Kirby finished and published European Butterflies and Moths (19th Century Collection, 19th C. Coll. 595.78 KIR), which gives a comprehensive guide into the world of the Lepidoptera. 137 years later, the book is still easily read even for novice readers such as us, which he writes about in his preface, stating that the book is ’designed to provide entomologists and tourists with a comprehensive illustrated guide to the study of European Macro-Lepidoptera’.

The exhibition ‘The Beauty of Insects: Seeing Art in the Entomological World’ that was created as part of the placement in Newcastle University Special Collections and Archives can be viewed online.

Spiral Nebula in the Snow – #ChristmasCountdown Door no. 20

#ChristmasCountdown
Door no. 20

Here’s a snowy and wintery image from our University Archives.

Photograph of Geoffrey Clarke’s sculpture, in the snow, in front of Sir Basil Spence’s Herschel Building at Newcastle University, for the Department of Physics, taken 1963.

‘Spiral Nebula’ (also known as ‘Swirling Nebula’) was designed by noted post-war sculptor Geoffrey Clarke in 1962. It is a leading example of post-war public art. It is one of the few from this period that is situated in Newcastle.

It was commissioned by the architect Basil Spence as part of the design of the Herschel Building for the Physics Department of Kings College, University of Durham (which later in 1963 became Newcastle University). It reflects the scientific advances being made at this time,  such as Britain’s first satellite, ‘Ariel 1’, which was launched in 1963 (the same year as the building was opened and sculpture unveiled).

Read more about the sculpture’s history and its revival here.

‘Spiral Nebula’ was one of five pieces of post-war public art in the North East to be given listed status at Grade II by Historic England in August 2016 (announced by Historic England September 2016). Read more here.

This photograph is part of the photographic section of the University Archives. To see more images of ‘Spiral Nebula’ in situ and being constructed, visit CollectionsCaptured.