Wilhelmina Geddes (1887–1955) was an Irish stained glass artist. She had a workshop at the An Túr Gloine and was a member of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Important achievements included windows at St. Bartholomew’s in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
Wilhelmina Margaret Geddes was born on her maternal grandparents farm at Drumreilly Cottage in Leitrim on the 25 May 1887. Eldest daughter of four children born to William Geddes (c.1852-1916) and his wife Eliza Jane Safford (1863-1955). The family who descended from Scotland migrated to Ireland and had been principally farmers. Her father was born a Methodist near his father's farm at Tandragee, County Armagh, emigrated to America as a young man, working as a labourer for the railway construction business. This later served purpose as he worked as a site engineer at the Cavan, Leitrim and Roscommon Railway Company. Still an infant her parents moved her to their native home in Belfast, so her father could set up work as a building contractor. A plaque placed by the Ulster History Circle can be found at house in Marlborough Park South.
Geddes began drawing subjects from life and nature from the age of four. She learnt first how to draw from the school mistress in Ayrshire, where her father occasionally went shooting. She began her studies at Methodist College Belfast along with her three younger sisters. She later moved to the Belfast School of Art. Geddes was encouraged by Rosamond Praeger, a sculptor from County Down, to continue with her studies. A keen interest in art led to Geddes studying over eight years at the Belfast Municipal Technical Institute.
She was invited by Sarah Purser to join An Túr Gloine, which was a cooperative stained glass studio in Dublin, where she learned stained glass techniques from others in the cooperative. On her 38th birthday she moved to London where she had a studio at the Glass House in Fulham, which had been set up by Mary Lowndes and Alfred J. Drury where her pupils included Evie Hone.
Her work was considered pioneering and represented a rejection of the Late Victorian approach. She created a new view of men in stained glass windows, portraying them with close-shaven crew cuts. Her three-light window for Ottawa had already attracted considerable attention in London, where it was briefly exhibited en route from Dublin to Canada. It is known worldwide to stained glass connoisseurs as the “Ottawa Window”.
Always known as erratic, Geddes had a nervous breakdown in 1925 and spent six months in hospital under medication. She had fears of contact with comets or dead stars. Indeed, she had included coloured shooting stars in her windows from 1914.
Wilhelmina Geddes' education began at the Methodist College Belfast, where she was raised as a child. Some years later, Geddes was accepted as a student to study at the Belfast School of Art, Ulster University. This is where Geddes adapted and improved on her art and introduced to professional standard of art work. The Belfast school of Art is where she built on her competence in printmaking and textiles - a skill at which Geddes is less renowned for but nevertheless was talented in. to While she was still studying at the Belfast School of Art, Geddes took part in the Arts and Crafts Society of Ireland's fourth exhibition.
Whilst still studying at the Belfast School of Art, Geddes took part in the Arts and Crafts Society of Ireland's fourth exhibition. For this exhinition, Geddes contributed a glowingly colored, illustration of the book Cinderella Dressing the Ugly Sister (Dublin City Gallery), which she had created. It was at this exhibition that Geddes' work was spotted by Sarah Purser, a well established painter, seeking newly trained students, to introduce to stained glass artistry. Purser, who eventually went on to be Geddes' lifelong mentor, invited the young Geddes to join her in Dublin, working under the established stain glass artist William Orpen.
Geddes agreed to join Purser and travel to Dublin to study under William Orpen at a workshop called An Túr Gloine, translating to 'The Tower of Glass'. An Túr Gloine was a small acclaimed stained glass workshop. This workshop was held in Dublin's NCAD (National College of Art and Design). It was at An Túr Gloine, where Geddes discovered her passion for the craftsmanship of stained glass artistry.
Geddes was an important figure within the Irish Arts and Crafts movement and also the twentieth century British stained glass revival. Geddes was educated at Orpen's classes at the Metropolitan School of Art. Though Geddes was primarily a stained glass painter, she also explored the use of other mediums, such as linocut, charcoal, pencil and watercolours. Her work was inspired by many different areas of life and art. Some of her artistic inspiration includes: Irish Poet W.B Yeats, Thirteenth Century Stained Glass, The Three Testaments of The Bible and Expressionist Formula Work. She also gained artistic inspiration from her cats Billy and Jenkins.
This window was revealed at St.Bartholomew's by the HRH Prince of Wales. The window itself was commissioned by Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught in 1916. This piece is located in Ontario Canada. The window is a memorial piece, depicting images of mourning men and women. Geddes uses primitive colours in her Ottawa Window, most prominent of the colours used are yellow and black. It is said by a critic that the colours used in this piece "give the window power and drama while strong, expressive drawing brings out the sense of action and facial expression." An article in Irish Life featured the window on the cover of its Christmas tree in 1919. The writer of the article considered this window to be 'one of the artistic triumphs of this century'. Geddes completed the entire window in Miss Pursor's glass works, Upper Pembroke Street in Dublin, Ireland.
This piece was Geddes' last monumental work in stained glass. It measures: 20 ft and 4ins high by 11 ft 6 ins wide. It is located in the parish church of St.Peter's Lampeter. She painted the figures on glass of incredible clarity and rich use of colour. The three dominant figures portrayed in this piece are: Christ, St.Peter and St.Andrew. These characters are portrayed to be occupied with thoughts beyond "mortal cares". Geddes herself declared that the window's subject was 'The Prophecy of Esaias' and the 'Calling of Peter and Andrew'. Christ is the central figure and stands taller than St.Peter and St.Andrew. Christ holds within his hands a pink and gold stone Byzantine church sat upon a rock. This church on a rock symbolism is referring to a Bible verse, in Matthew 16:16-19.
This window was commissioned by Canon Henry Dobbs, who was Chaplain to the Armed Forces. This piece was given by parishioners to commemorate casualties from the congregation. The casualties were lost in World War one. As were two other windows, St.Michael and St.Raphael. Gabriel stands hard and solid displaying a warrior like, rugged face. He wears a blue an white mantle, which he wraps around himself. In St.Gabriel's hands he holds a branch given to him in Paradise and a mirror inscribed with an 'x', which signifies Christ letter in Greek. Geddes depicts the angel with a red halo and a stony-faced expression. The church in which this window remains is All Saints' Church, Blackrock, Co.Dublin In 1996 St.Gabriel and St.Raphael were reunited in the church's south wall.
Geddes died on 10 August 1955 in London. She was buried in Cronmoney Cemetery, Ballyclare, Co. Antrim, along with her mother and sister Ethel. Geddes claimed even after moving to London, her native identity never wavered as she says she was always "a Belfast woman". She had a close relationship with her family throughout her life despite how much she struggled living away from them.
It was around when Geddes concluded that she had already established her family name in Belfast that she left for London to start a new life. For thirty years she worked amidst congenial colleagues, living alone in a succession of bedsits. Snippets of her life was obtained as she wrote in her diaries. From 1983 to 1994, the glass stained arts she produced during her time went beyond words that could ever be expressed, said by critics. Having lived through World War 2 she often fell asleep while reading poems in her bunker. Post-war time, she found it difficult to return to having a normal life especially after the Blitz as she could not often differentiate the difference between thunder, air-traffic or approaching bombs.
Geddes was employed shortly by Edward Glover and received a few commissions from Vic Drury who insisted she drafted his Glass of Correspondence. The conclusions of the second World War Two, her final moments concluded her collapsing in July 1955 six weeks shortly after died then passed away shortly after.