The Clarke Stained Glass Studios Collection contains stained glass designs, colour schemes, opus sectile designs, architects' blueprints and plans, photographs, documentation about sales and orders, correspondence, financial records, staffing records, and research documentation related to stained glass work executed by the Clarke Studios, Dublin from 1893 to 1972. The bulk of the material covers the period after Harry Clarke's death in 1931.
Joshua Clarke moved to Ireland from Leeds in 1877, and initially worked with a firm of ecclesiastical suppliers. By 1887 Clarke had established his own business as a church decorator, had married Bridget McGonigal, and was running his business from leased premises at number 33 North Frederick Street, behind Parnell Square in Dublin. The stained glass designs that survive from this period are very traditional, often taken from stock sheets provided by stained glass suppliers.
Joshua and Bridget Clarke’s eldest children, Walter and Harry, were born within one year of one another, in 1888 and 1889 respectively. Bridget Clarke died in 1903, when Harry was only 14. By then Harry had already shown an aptitude for drawing, and it is likely that he had done some work for his father’s stained glass firm even before leaving school. Harry worked the following year as an apprentice draughtsman for the architect Thomas McNamara; in 1905 he attended night classes at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin. There are a number of drawings by J. Clarke & Sons from the period between 1903 and 1920 which, despite lacking his signature, may have been designed by Harry Clarke, as they are particularly fine.
Joshua Clarke died in 1921, and after that his two sons, Walter and Harry, took over the running of the firm. By this time, Harry had become a highly successful artist in his own right, having completed the windows for the Honan Chapel in Cork. The ten years between 1921 and 1931 were a period of intense activity both for Clarke personally, and for the firm, which eventually had a very negative effect on Harry’s health. Trinity College’s archive contains several designs dating from this period. Some of them are still in a very traditional vein, while the later designs clearly bear the hallmarks of Harry Clarke’s style.
By 1930 the firm had been renamed Harry Clarke Stained Glass Ltd. Although Harry Clarke died on January 6, 1931, for many years afterwards the Clarke Studios produced designs which replicated Harry Clarke’s style, quite likely because clients themselves requested it. Figures had elongated faces and fingers and pointed feet, and compositions were highly influenced by the Symbolist art movement. In the 1960s and 1970s the Studios incorporated more modern elements into their designs. The materials in the Clarke Collection often show the process by which an artwork evolved from the ideas of the client, to pencil sketches, and the final colour design.
After Harry's death his wife Margaret Clarke ran the firm in tandem with a series of highly talented studio managers until her own death in 1961. Subsequently Harry’s sisters Dolly and Lally Clarke managed the administrative side of the business.
The firm worked extensively outside Ireland, this being reflected in the material in the Archive, which documents commissions in the U.K., U.S.A., Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and several African countries. The firm closed down in 1973.