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Remembrance restored through labour of love

[Stained-Glass cartoon]
Sharon Wightman, left, and Margaret Bignell, right, have collaborated on the restoration of a stained-glass cartoon created in 1925 by artist Peter Haworth. (University Communications)

Pieced, pasted, and put back together, the ornate and vibrant stained glass cartoon has been a labour of love 16 years in the making for Sharon Wightman.

A volunteer at the Queen’s University Archives and a graduate of the university’s art conservation program, Wightman first came upon the cartoon – basically a blueprint for a stained-glass window – by British-Canadian artist Peter Haworth as she searched a collection of rolls in the basement of Kathleen Ryan Hall in 2002.

[Stained-Glass cartoon]
Following 16 years of work at Queen’s University Archives, this stained-glass memorial window cartoon has been restored. (University Communications)

Haworth had arrived in Canada in 1923 and his first commission was for a stained glass window for what was then known as the Ontario Agricultural University, now the University of Guelph. It was to be a memorial for those killed in the First World War. Before getting to work on the window, Haworth, a veteran himself, first created a actual-sized cartoon of the design. 

The result is finely-detailed, colourful, and stunning.

Created in 1925, the cartoon would later be stored in Haworth’s studio. It would survive a fire and, eventually, be donated to the Queen’s Archives as part of a collection.

Now, more than 90 years after it was created, the cartoon has been brought back to life.

Throughout the process, there have been a number of instances of good fortune, such as finding a missing roll and completing the project just in time for the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.

“The interesting part for me is we had the two rolls and we found the missing one downstairs right away. It was the first roll. It was eerie,” Wightman says. “We had the two already laid out and unrolled the third. The lines, where the leading would be, lined up perfectly. We unrolled a bit further and they matched up again. Then we knew we had it, which was quite exciting because there were many rolls downstairs.”

It has been a painstaking process – repairing rips and tears, finding missing pieces and creating in-fills. The back of the completed cartoon is more complex than a jigsaw puzzle.

Providing support throughout the project has been Margaret Bignell, a Queen’s Archives conservator and another graduate of the Queen’s art conservation program.

It’s rewarding to see the project completed, she says.

“I think the artist would be very pleased that it is together again,” says Bignell, who recently retired from Queen’s. “It is a magnificent piece of art and I’m just really happy that people can now appreciate it because it is beautiful.”

With a second lease on life, the cartoon will now be professionally photographed and stored securely by Queen’s University Archives. 

Learn more about the Queen’s University Archives.