I once worked for Sanderson, the company that makes fabrics and wallpaper with floral patterns and William Morris designs, and I often had meetings in the swish Sanderson showroom on Berners Street in London. So how many times did I walk past the huge, two storey stained glass mural designed by John Piper (early 1950s) as I climbed the stairs to yet another chat about chintz? More to the point, how many times did I walk past it and not really appreciate it?
I was definitely aware of it, otherwise I wouldn't have remembered it so clearly. But the fact is that I regarded it then as something terribly dated and far too Fifties for my liking. It's only now that I have come to realise that it's a really beautiful, colourful, abstract work of art, that John Piper was an incredible designer of glass, and that Patrick Reyntiens (b 1925) who made it is an incredible maker of stained glass (together they also produced the glass for the new Coventry Cathedral as well as many more commissions).
It's odd how you can come to like something you once dismissed as old fashioned and even downright ugly. It's taken me a long time to even begin to consider the Fifties and the Festival of Britain and all that as anything other than horrible. But one of the advantages of getting older is that you live long enough to change your mind, and be persuaded of the value of something you once dismissed, and John Piper's work is one of these things I've changed my mind about.
I now seek out his watercolours and prints in galleries, enjoy his splashy, mixy, crayony, watery scenes with thunderously dark skies and nobbly, stony buildings. I like his black and white photos in the Shell Guides and the way he and John Betjeman went on epic 'church crawls' and documented them in words and pictures. I like his murals, his enormous tapestry in Chichester cathedral, and think he painted one of the finest views ever of the same cathedral. I'm less keen on some of his thinking and writing, and some of his watercolours are decidedly slapdash, but I'd now be very happy to pass the Sanderson window on a regular basis, and I like to think I'd be a little more appreciative of the brightness it must have brought into what was really an underlit and underheated decade.
[I went to have a look at the window a little while ago. The showroom is now the Sanderson Hotel. The man in reception couldn't have been nicer, and let me go in to what is now a billiard room at the base of staircase and the glass. These are iPhone photos, so not marvellous. JP also designed some fabrics for Sanderson and even small pieces now cost a fortune. I bet they were languishing, unloved in an age of wild florals and chintz, somewhere in a dark stockroom when I was working there.]