Stained glass artist

Born: February 4, 1931

Died: February 24, 2016

CREAR McCartney, who has died aged 85, was one of Scotland's finest stained glass artists who, during his long career, produced 112 largely religious works at sites from Aberdeen to Ayr, from Kirkwall to Cornwall and beyond.

His vast window in St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, created to celebrate its 850th anniversary, was dedicated in the presence of The Queen. Dornoch Cathedral also has six of his windows and St Ninian’s Stonehouse Church in South Lanarkshire has 11. Professor John Hume, chairman of The Scottish Stained Glass Trust, has described Mr McCartney's contribution to 20th century stained glass art in Scotland as distinguished and distinctive.

With a rich and original imagination, a deep love of nature, and a prodigious knowledge of history, languages, literature, music and the Bible, Mr McCartney found in stained glass a perfect medium. He readily translated vision into reality - "Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel" with a railway engine for example. He also strove to convey abstract power which transcends mere representation and to fill the spirit of the viewer with a comforting light. His conceptual ideas came in elegantly hand-written and illuminating statements.

Artistically, he was a worthy successor to earlier Scottish stained glass artists such as Douglas Strachan, Gordon Webster, and Sadie McLellan. His sense of colour and his colour-memory were superb. He chose each piece of glass himself, and liked the way streaky or uneven glass put movement into the window. The leads were designed to create what he called a a dark black web to add brilliance.

Before starting on a new work, he had to find the right piece of music to inspire him. He experienced sound as colour (synaesthesia): red for G or F, purple for D minor. And he needed stained glass art, “because I could not find the words to express what I felt”.

Christian Shaw, with whom he made many windows, notes that he had an ability to combine the very old within the new in his designs. Through his varied handling of figure-representation, aspects of history or meaning could be subtly implied. Plants or animals complemented primary figures – the details scraped out (sgraffito) instead of painted on. Biblical quotations abounded. Lettering and heraldic motifs were immaculate. “The hardest part,” he said, “was trying to imagine what a new window would look like because it is never seen until it is finished”.

Robert John Crear McCartney (always called Crear), the son of David McCartney, platform foreman at Carstairs Junction, and Elizabeth, née Crear, was born in Lanark and reared in Symington, South Lanarkshire. Growing up in a happy family and in a rural context he absorbed everything - nature, literature, Scottish history, railways and model railways, butterflies (photographed), river trout (guddled): most of them turning up later in his designs.

Educated at Symington Primary and Biggar High School, he was taught to draw by a Polish expatriate billeted in his home. He sang in Biggar Kirk choir and, with his father, attended Polish services nearby where he learned to love Polish and Czech music.

After 18 months of national service in the RAF, he enrolled for the DA course at Glasgow School of Art in 1950. A highlight was Elizabeth P Hamilton’s class in puppetry. A further year enabled him to study stained glass under a notable sculptor and stained glass artist, Walter Pritchard. A travel award from GSA took him to Europe’s mediaeval cathedrals and abbeys, especially Chartres and St Denis.

In 1955, he was invited by Dom Ninian Sloan, OSB to run the stained glass studio at Pluscarden Priory near Elgin. For the first of five years, he lived in a cell and ate with the silent Benedictine monks while the Bible was read aloud. After his marriage to Catherine Jack in 1956, they moved to New Elgin.

From teacher training in Aberdeen, he went to Elgin Academy, before being appointed principal art teacher at Lesmahagow High School in 1964. His studio was in Crawford. From 1971, the family lived in Wiston School House, Catherine being headteacher there. For more than 20 years Mr McCartney taught art and practised stained glass, becoming a full-time freelance stained glass artist in about 1988.

The window in St Katherine’s Aisle in St Michael’s Church, Linlithgow, with six lancets in two stages and a rose window above, is widely considered to be his greatest work. In the upper stage, the Godhead, the Holy Spirit, the 12 Apostles and the Last Trump are represented by strong reds and yellows inspired by the opening horn and trumpet fanfare from Leos Janacek’s Sinfonietta. Below, the River of Life, the golden streets and doorways leading into heaven - based on verses from Revelation 22 - were inspired by the hauntingly beautiful melody in Joel’s prayer from Elgar’s Oratorio, The Kingdom.

Enthusiastic, personable, hard-working and unassuming, Crear McCartney knew how to carry ideas forward and make things happen. At home, he landscaped the garden at Wiston. An early campaigner for Scottish independence, and programme secretary of Biggar Music Club, he supported many causes. A congenial socialiser, he kept his friends because of who he was. Above all, he loved, and was loved by, his family, who tended his latter years with great commitment. He died peacefully in hospital after a short illness.

At his memorial service in Biggar Kirk, family, friends and former colleagues gathered from far and near, past and present. The sense of love, admiration and gratitude for Crear McCartney was palpable. His beautiful Rae Memorial window, To Everything ... a Season ... A Time to Mourn shed light and hope on the occasion. The telling and moving tribute, prepared by his family, was read by the minister, Rev Mike Fucella. He is survived by his former wife, Catherine and their children Colin, Aidan and Ilene.