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Vandalism and Art

Vandalism of the Winston Churchill appliqué glass screen: a story without an ending?

Norman H Tennent and Stephen D Field

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1The Winston Churchill memorial appliqué glass screen (Fig 1) was created by the artist Edward Bainbridge Copnall in the mid 1960s for an exterior location in a shopping precinct in Dudley in the West Midlands of England. Appliqué glass art involves the bonding of coloured glass to a support of clear plate glass and this magnificent creation consisted of 17 glass panels with a total width of c. 12 metres illustrating the life of Churchill, including the Houses of Parliament, St Paul’s Cathedral and World War II scenes. The screen weighed five tonnes and took two years to build. It was intended to be viewed from both sides and was erected in a position above the shops, exposed to the elements.

Fig.1 Churchill memorial

Fig.1 Churchill memorial

Appliqué glass screen, photographed soon after installation

Photo: courtesy of Dudley Libraries, Archives and Local History Service.

2This example of appliqué glass art represented a high-point of the technique in the UK; a technical tour de force which was fondly regarded by the local community. In 1984 a severe act of vandalism took place. One night, vandals attacked the screen by throwing solid objects at the central panel, depicting Churchill in the ceremonial robes of a Knight of the Garter, and the flanking panels of St Paul's and Parliament. The impact of the onslaught left the key portrait panel in numerous larger fragments (Fig. 2) with the coloured glass, often in several layers, mostly still adhering to the plate glass which had been cracked like an impacted car windscreen.

Fig. 2 Vandalised section representing Churchill’s head

Fig. 2 Vandalised section representing Churchill’s head

The picture shows the still-intact, build-up of several layers of appliqué glass on the plate glass base.

Photo: N Tennent, 2013

3When the destruction was cleared, the debris from the portrait, including countless tiny pieces (Fig 3), was shoveled into tea chests. Unfortunately, there is no record as to the fate of the two flanking panels. The other side panels remained on site until 1992 when the Council sold the shopping centre and stored the panels. Now, only 11 of the 17 original panels, including the fragmented Churchill portrait panel, are extant – still in storage with little prospect of conservation and re-display.

Figure 3 Churchill screen fragments

Figure 3 Churchill screen fragments

A miscellaneous assortment of small Churchill screen fragments shattered during the vandalism but mostly still attached to the base plate glass.

Photo: N. Tennent, 2013

4This paper addresses the main issues relevant to the reinstatement of all or part of this important example of appliqué glass art: the loss of some panels; lack of technical knowledge for effective conservation [Tennent 2006, Tennent 2009], the scale and cost of conservation, the role of the owner (the local authority), the changing attitude to public space in urban design, changing attitudes to late twentieth century modernism and the view of the general public.

5Even before the 1984 act of vandalism, the continuing viability of this huge appliqué stained glass creation had been in doubt. After a few short years, the UV-visible radiation and rainfall of the outdoor display site proved detrimental to the glass-to-glass epoxy adhesion. Even within a year, a few pieces of the applied glass were detaching from the plate glass substrate or from underlying layers of coloured glass in the multi-layer areas required for the image of Churchill’s face, the heraldic shields and other features. Accordingly, the whole screen was dismantled, the glass de-bonded and then remade with a new epoxy resin system [Tennent 2009]. This formulation, including a silane adhesion promoter [Tennent 2006, Tennent 2009] was tested for durability prior to use, in contrast to that originally used by Copnall. In-service experience after the screen was re-erected confirmed that this epoxy system was indeed more durable, although epoxy resin degradation was visible in due course in surplus areas of the adhesive (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4 Detail of one of the armorial panels

Fig. 4 Detail of one of the armorial panels

Detail showing areas of surplus epoxy resin (indicated by the arrow), opaque and somewhat yellow as a result of weathering of the resin, exposed to the elements during display.

Photo: J. Dunn, 2006.

6The prospect of post-vandalism reinstatement of the whole, or even part of, the Winston Churchill screen is, therefore, complicated by numerous factors:

  • the missing glass panels,

  • the fragmentary nature of the vandalised appliqué glass and the support plate glass,

  • the extreme cracking of the plate glass still bonded to most of the fragmented glass,

  • uncertainty over how much of the appliqué glass is missing or cannot be matched to the original design,

  • uncertainty over the need to de-bond the glass prior to restoration and, if deemed necessary, how to do this,

  • uncertainty on how to reassemble the fragmented glass and what materials to use for the support and adhesive (or encapsulant),

  • uncertainty over the appropriate location/s for re-display of all (or part) of the remaining sections,

  • changing public attitudes to the subject,

  • the costs of the project.

7These factors include technical, social, political and financial issues, at the heart of which is lack of knowledge of suitable materials and processes of conservation, not only in the glass conservation profession but also within the adhesives’ industry. In 2014, in a bid to address the relevant factors, an assessment was made of some of the larger fragments which made up the central portrait panel, including the foreground and the heraldic shield. This study was undertaken by conservators in both the Glass & Ceramics and Modern Materials tracks of the Post-Masters phase of the conservation and restoration education at the University of Amsterdam [van Basten et al., 2014]

8Copnall’s monumental creation was not the only depiction of Winston Churchill to have suffered catastrophically in the second half of the 20th century. The commemorative oil portrait of Churchill by Graham Sutherland, commissioned as a gift by Parliament for his 80th birthday in 1954, was hated by Churchill, immediately consigned to a storage room in his country home and was later destroyed in a bonfire on the instructions of his wife Lady Churchill. Sutherland referred to this as “an act of vandalism” [Anon 2017, Furness 2017]. Although Churchill never saw his commemorative appliqué glass screen, it is likely that he would have had greater affection for it than for the Sutherland portrait, not least because Churchill is authoritatively depicted wearing the robes of the Knight of the Order of the Garter in which he had wished to be represented for the oil portrait. Although the challenge of restoration and redisplay of the memorial screen’s central portrait panel is daunting, the continuing hope for a successful ending to the saga fits Churchill’s well-expressed dogged determination; “Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm”.

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Bibliography

Tennent, N. H. 2006. Appliqué stained glass - the conflict between conservation and context, in The Object in Context: Crossing Conservation Boundaries (Preprints, 21st International Congress, Munich, 28 August–1 September 2006) Ed. D. Saunders, J.H. Townsend and S. Woodcock, IIC, London, 273-278.

Tennent, N. H. 2009. Appliqué stained glass: creation, deterioration… and restoration? in Art d’Aujourd’hui Patrimoine de Demain”, (13es Journées d’Études de la SFIIC, Paris, 24-26 June 2009) Ed. M. Stefanaggi and R Hocquette, SFIIC, Paris, 306-311.

van Basten, N., van der Laan, S., Laanbroek, I., Manshanden, A., Overhoff, M., Wagenaar, M., 2014. Considerations for the Conservation of the Churchill Appliqué Glass Screen, Dudley, UK, Unpublished report, Conservation and Restoration of Modern and Contemporary Art, Conservation and Restoration of Glass and Ceramics, Faculty of Humanities, University of Amsterdam, February 2014.

Anon, Sutherland's Portrait of Winston Churchill

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sutherland%27s_Portrait_of_Winston_Churchill

Furness, H., Secret of Winston Churchill's unpopular Sutherland portrait revealed

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/winston-churchill/11730850/Secret-of-Winston-Churchills-unpopular-Sutherland-portrait-revealed.html

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List of illustrations

Title Fig.1 Churchill memorial
Caption Appliqué glass screen, photographed soon after installation
Credits Photo: courtesy of Dudley Libraries, Archives and Local History Service.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ceroart/docannexe/image/5669/img-1.jpg
File image/jpeg, 244k
Title Fig. 2 Vandalised section representing Churchill’s head
Caption The picture shows the still-intact, build-up of several layers of appliqué glass on the plate glass base.
Credits Photo: N Tennent, 2013
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ceroart/docannexe/image/5669/img-2.jpg
File image/jpeg, 912k
Title Figure 3 Churchill screen fragments
Caption A miscellaneous assortment of small Churchill screen fragments shattered during the vandalism but mostly still attached to the base plate glass.
Credits Photo: N. Tennent, 2013
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ceroart/docannexe/image/5669/img-3.jpg
File image/jpeg, 404k
Title Fig. 4 Detail of one of the armorial panels
Caption Detail showing areas of surplus epoxy resin (indicated by the arrow), opaque and somewhat yellow as a result of weathering of the resin, exposed to the elements during display.
Credits Photo: J. Dunn, 2006.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/ceroart/docannexe/image/5669/img-4.jpg
File image/jpeg, 78k
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References

Electronic reference

Norman H Tennent and Stephen D Field, « Vandalism of the Winston Churchill appliqué glass screen: a story without an ending? », CeROArt [Online], HS | 2018, Online since 09 December 2018, connection on 20 May 2019. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/ceroart/5669

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About the authors

Norman H Tennent

Norman H. Tennent, University of Amsterdam, Conservation & Restoration, Johannes Vermeerplein 1, 1071 DV Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Stephen D Field

Stephen D. Field, Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council, Himley Hall, Himley Road, Dudley DY3 4DF, United Kingdom

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Copyright

Licence Creative Commons
CeROArt – Conservation, exposition, restauration d'objets d'arts est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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