The Ipswich area has lost three important works of art by an artist of
international renown - John Hutton. Before I come to those, perhaps I
should tell his story from the beginning.
John Hutton was a muralist and glass engraver born in Clyde on the
South Island of New Zealand in 1906. He married fellow artist Helen
(Nell) Blair in 1934 and they made England their permanent home in
1936. They lived for a while in an artists' commune at Assington Hall
in Suffolk. John worked on several mural commissions until the war
broke out in 1939.
During the war he joined a camouflage unit where he met and worked
with the architect Basil Spence - a relationship which was to prove
invaluable later on. In 1947 he designed his first large scale glass
engravings -a series of four panels depicting the seasons for the
restaurant area on the Cunard ship Caronia. By 1953 he had developed a
unique method of engraving using a grinding wheel attached to a
At about the same time he had been commissioned to design a seventy
feet high screen for Coventry Cathedral. The design stage took eight
years and the engraving process a further two years. The screen
consists of glass panels depicting 66 figures representing saints and
angels. The work was not without its frustrations and dangers. After
the screen had been assembled on site, Basil Spence said he felt that
the opacity of the figures would obscure the view of Graham
Sutherland's tapestry. He asked John if he could reduce the
'whiteness' of the engravings. John reluctantly agreed and with his
two sons he climbed the scaffolding to carry out the polishing process
which would satisfy the architect's demands. One day they climbed up
to continue the work and found that the screen seemed further away. In
fact the whole screen had sprung loose and had moved from the vertical
by approximately fifteen inches. Needless to say the three men
descended the scaffolding faster than they had climbed it. Steel
cables were eventually attached and they remain in place to this day.
When designing the screen John had used an artist's model, Marigold
Dodson, to pose for many of the figures. His first marriage ended
during this period and he eventually married Marigold in 1963. He
still did work with his former wife subsequently on joint art
John Hutton had worked on other commissions concurrent with the
cathedral screen project. Two of the commissions were located in the
Ipswich area. In 1956 he produced a sgraffito image showing the four
elements - earth, air, fire and water - commissioned by Birkin Haward.
It was located in the stairwell of the main building of Fison's
Levington Research Station. This was the first and only time he used
the sgraffito technique. The final work was achieved by first applying
a layer of coloured plaster. This layer was allowed to set and a
second layer of a different colour spread over the first. John then
scraped away the still wet top layer producing an image of the
figures. He had to work fast before the plaster set, which he said was
very nerve-racking. Unfortunately this artwork was destroyed in the
1980s despite the ministrations of a number of ex-Fison's employees.
In 1961 he was asked again by the architect Birkin Haward to produce
three engraved glass panels for the Foyer of Fison House in Princes
Street, Ipswich. They represented the Roman goddesses of flowers,
fruit and agriculture - Flora, Pomona and Ceres respectively.
Unfortunately, after Fisons had moved out of the building, the panels
were removed by an over-zealous builder who destroyed the Ceres panel
in the process and managed to break the Pomona panel in half. The
remaining panels were placed in a basement storage area with the
broken furniture and dead computers. Berkeley Business Centres now own
the site and thanks to Hazel Warrington and Rupal Patel who work for
them they contacted me and we were able to have them moved to a safer
room of their own where I photographed them.
I contacted Colchester and Ipswich Museums, who had shown some
interest, but they had no way of displaying the panels and eventually
I contacted Marigold Hutton for help. She bought the panels from
Berkeley Business Centres and found a glass conservator, Kenneth Watt,
in Chichester who has agreed to restore them. Marigold has also given
me Hutton's original chalk drawings on black paper which he used as a
basis for the Fison House engravings. The drawings are very fragile
and they were therefore boxed up and sent to Chichester with the
panels. Eventually Marigold intends to display the panels in Clifton
Hampden near Abingdon where Hutton worked in his final years and where
she still lives.
The third work was a ceramic produced in collaboration with his
ex-wife Nell together with Jan and Zoe Elliston. This was commissioned
by the former Eastern Electricity Board for their Russell Road
headquarters in Ipswich in 1966. This too is believed lost.
John Hutton lived and worked on until 1979 when he finally succumbed
to cancer. His ashes were appropriately buried beneath a stone at the
foot of his finest work - the screen at Coventry Cathedral.
I feel some sadness that this artist with the unique ability to design
and engrave glass on a huge scale in the UK, Canada, New Zealand,
etc., is not represented in and around our town which once housed
three of his works. After all, the panels he cut and the sgraffito he
accomplished symbolised the work and products of an old local firm
which had premises in Ipswich and Bramford for 150 years. The artwork
and the original Fisons Company are now but a memory in the town. But
if you are ever in Southwold you can see a window engraved by Hutton.
It is located in the north wall of the church of St Edmund. It depicts
the figure of St Edmund at the moment of his death and martyrdom.