Saturday, 14 June 2014

Hand & Church - April 1912 - a fiery protest

In The Vineyard (April 1912), Greville MacDonald wrote the opening article titled 'Hand and Church'. In it he provides a passionate description of the Country Church, Kings Road, Haslemere, where St Georges Flats now stand.  The frontispiece of the April 1912 journal, facing he article, is an illustration by Melicent Norris, whose collection of Hine family paintings was reviewed in this post.

Atonement, After Blake by Melicent Norris
Frontispiece The Vineyard, April 1912

"There stands in a forgotten corner of a certain country town a wooden building something like a barn, much like a home, altogether like the lily and the rose.  Its mystic Beauty is an outward sign of the truth that man must be saved.  It was at first called the Folk Church, but now is the Country Church.  It stands for a worth in the people, which being essential, being the very sign manual of God's love and joy and pity, is the means at once of His creature's evolution and salvation.  It stands as a symbolic prayer for the restoration of the traditional country life and all its simplicity: the red lamp of its heart always burns over the altar.  It stands for the Truth, whose word is spoken only in Beauty - the Truth made manifest in the promise of children and the glory of flowers, rather than in schools however lavishly endowed with books and instruments and provings.  The Gospel comes to the heart and not the understanding.  The Baby lies in the Manger and the lilies arise in the field as unconscious protests against that professionalism in art, in virtue, in worship which, all unwittingly, robs the Child and the flowers of their mystic glory.  This little Church has for its work the inspiring faith rather than the opposing of unbelief.  None the less and inevitably it is a fiery protest against a materialistic age which trusts to be saved from its sins by parliaments, schools, and laboratories.  It stands, like the child and the lily, for the integral life; like them, it holds as its heart an inheritance of ancient ways; like them, it is a thing of beauty.

detail of the interior of the Country Church, Kings Road, Haslemere
reproduced courtesy of Haslemere Educational Museum
"In my consciousness the Country Church stands as a shrine.  Little, long, low windows with green and rosy curtains light it by day; dozens of candles by night.  The altar stands in a vaulted apse fashioned by the artist's hand.  On its walls live, in modelled plaster and radiant colour, birds on uplifting wing, vines out springing and embracing, fruit trees lavish in their kindliness.  As the keystone of the arch from which the apse recedes, is a crucifix almost archaic in simplicity.  From it to right and to left are rushing over the wall red flames that cross great wind-tossed clouds; while, towards the limit of this wall on both sides, the flames are changed into up looking, uprising doves.  But the altar-piece itself surpasses in imaginative splendour all ecclesiastic Art that I have ever seen.  Standing out from a background of vine in green and purple, stands the cross.  Above is written "Ego sum Vitis Vera," and below, among roses and doves, "I am the Resurrection and the Life."  In front of the cross, and raised from it as if leaving it behind, is the body of the Saviour, head and eyes uplifted, arms still outstretched but uprising.  It is carved in wood and coloured in subdued yet glowing tones.  It cannot but fill every simple man and woman with sense of worship.
Reredos of Carved and Painted Wood in the Country Church, Kings Road, Haslemere, 
designed by Godfrey Blount
from Art Journal, February 1911
"On every hand the Art is living, the symbols never tied within rigid bonds.  Like the greatest music, they may awaken one form of inspiration in one person, another in another, though all get like uplifting and help.  The noblest art is many-sided, like the nature of man, and no one aspect need be truer than another.  So here, many understandings are gathered into one confession of faith.  Below the exulting doves hangs a small sculptured Pieta, which deserves remark because of the particular note of freedom sounding in this Church.  It is surmounted by an open frieze of ripening corn, the instant unwritten word of which rings forth as if from some invisible trumpet: "That which thou sowest is not quickened except it die….It is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory…Death is swallowed up in victory!"

East End Recess of the Country Church, Kings Road, Haslemere
designed and modelled in plaster by Godfrey Blount
from Art Journal, February 1911

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