Established Artist and Teacher
Carter early developed a love of country life and nature, went sketching with John Hughes and spent periods sketching farm life. He continued painting rural scenes as well as scenes of Sydney and the harbour. He is better known for his portraiture for which he gained many commissions, an early one being to paint William Bligh for Government House in 1907. His portraits of academics, judges, politicians and other notables hang mainly in Sydney and Canberra. They include David Scott Mitchell at the Mitchell Library, philosopher Sir Francis Anderson at the University of Sydney and Sir Edmund Barton and William Morris Hughes at Parliament House, Canberra. He painted his brother Bryce, a noted cellist, and his violinist brother Frank Mowat. Carter was a finalist in the Archibald Prize a number of times. His failure to win did not dampen his enthusiasm; noting in 1937 that after fifteen years of trying, he was still hoping.3 Carter’s reputation was built on talent, earnestness and application and he immersed himself in the art world he inhabited.
In the early phase of his career Carter was influenced by the ‘low toned’ movement espoused by Max Meldrum who also studied at the National Art School in Melbourne. Meldrum placed tone above proportion and composition and his theories were followed by his devoted students. Carter was less purist, noting ‘His principles are good when applied with intelligence but his followers seem to be nothing more than slavish imitators of Meldrum and each other’.4 Contemporary news reports of Carter’s work note the tendency to formality and clarity in his portraiture and emphasis on finding the character of the sitter. His portrait of Howard Hinton OBE (1936) focuses on the subject’s face, hands and form against a dark background. His benign expression and manicured nails suggest the successful businessman and patron of Australian art. Captain P.G. Taylor (1940) is a figure in brown set out from a pale, atmospheric background. Outdoor subjects such as a beach at Austinmer (1927) and the Hunt Club (1930) employ lively brushstrokes reminiscent of E. Phillips Fox. Carter was reported as supporting Meldrum’s view that art should not be a mystery to the public and also that great art required as much perspiration as inspiration. He did not favour modernism in art, commenting on the 1940 Keith Murdoch modern exhibition that he ‘cannot see the “greatness’’ claimed for much of it’.5
Carter was also an exponent of mural painting which was viewed by him and others as an opportunity for Australian themes in architecture. The most prominent, nonetheless, are two panels with classical and modern philosophers for the philosophy lecture room at the University of Sydney to commemorate Professor Anderson. They are signed and dated 1921 and have well drawn formally posed but relaxed figures and muted colouring. Proposed murals for the reading room of the Holme Building show an Australian riverscape and landscape. A large-scale mural for the Rural Bank in 1938, now in storage in the Powerhouse Museum, was based on numerous farm sketches. The following year he was one of artist Douglas Annand’s design team for the Australian Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. The Maritime Services Board building, now the Museum of Contemporary Art, opened in 1952 with murals including one by Carter depicting the commercial section of the port.
As early as 1911 Carter was appointed an instructor in painting at the Royal Art Society. He taught drawing and art history at the University of Sydney (1922-47) and was an instructor at the Sydney Technical College (1915-1940) where he was on the examining committee. He was a member of the Society of Artists, of which he became a vice-president in 1926, and a foundation member in 1937 of the Australian Academy of Art which lasted a decade. In 1920 he was a member of the War Memorials Advisory Board and in 1932 he was on the judging panel for the Sir John Sulman award for architecture. In yet another capacity he illustrated The Australian Alphabet (n.d.) with text by his friend Hugh McCrae. Carter contributed articles for Art in Australia on artists such as George Lambert in 1930. The 1935 edition contained an article on the manufacture of stained glass accompanied by some of his designs.6
Stained Glass Design and Manufacture
Carter both designed and made stained glass windows and designed windows which were made by two Sydney studios. The first of these was Frederick Tarrant’s. Carter met Tarrant at Hughes & Rogers where Tarrant was head journeyman painter and they became friends.7 Tarrant established a studio at 24 Taylor Street, Darlinghurst after working as Tarrant & Anderson in central Sydney. In 1928 Tarrant and Company was declared bankrupt and he died the following year. The second studio was P.O. Barnard’s Standard Glass Studio located at 183 Parramatta Road, Strathfield. Percy Barnard operated his studio with employees for over thirty years from around 1930. Carter noted in 1938 that artist Harold Huntley assisted him at his and Barnard’s studio during the previous year and that he was also assisted by Joshua Smith.8 There were probably others.
Carter’s earliest figurative window is the triple lancet commemorating Stewart Milson c.1916. It shows Old Boys marching with the school crest below in the left light, Christ with a crown of thorns in the centre and an angel and AIF symbol below in the right. A triple lancet commemorating Reginald Buckland (1917) was designed by Carter and made by Tarrant. There are three single lancets from 1922 and a double lancet from 1922 and 1932. In the last of these a figure of David holding a staff and slingshot is the style favoured by Carter of heroic figures from classical or medieval times and mythology. Carter was invited by the school council to submit designs for the northern apse which were approved late in 1947.12 These seven World War II windows depict figures such as St Michael, St George and King Arthur in uniformly brighter colours than the earlier windows. The device of including inspirational mythical figures rather than biblical proved controversial at the time.
A triple lancet above the baptismal font commemorating Bruce Arnott designed by Carter (1923)13 is Carter’s most traditional in its grouping of figures beneath architectural canopies and muted colours.
The commission for Shore Chapel came about after Carter learnt of the job from his friend architect B.J. Waterhouse.14 He was asked to prepare a complete scheme for the chapel windows. The nine 2-light memorial windows installed c.1918 show religious, medieval and classical figures in carefully arranged groups and naturalistic draughtsmanship. There is a more brilliantly coloured World War II window c.1945. Each window has a coat of arms and military insignia in the lower border. The historically significant window commemorating Captain Pockley MD who was killed at Gallipoli in 1915 includes a portrait of him as St Luke. Straight lead lines in some of the windows add an additional subtle layer to the design of the windows, a feature that continued in Carter’s work. Linear painting with scratched parallel lines to create texture and lighten dark areas of paint, seen in limited use in the World War I windows, is a prominent feature of his later work. Backgrounds have prominent foliage and bands of colour depicting sky beneath simple canopies which merge with the design.
Howard Hinton commissioned two windows for the Teachers’ College in Armidale, now the C.B. Newling Centre at the University of New England. One is on the theme of the glory of athletics (1935), the other on the theme of wisdom (1937). The design of both offsets the grid structure of the windows. The first has classical Greek athletes in a central barbed quatrefoil, medallions, half medallions and a lower border. The second has the imposing figure of Solomon in the central and top sections with coats of arms and religious insignia below, scholarly figures and angels in the side sections and banners and inscriptions extolling learning and faith. The window is signed ‘Designed and painted by Norman Carter’ and ‘Executed by Standard Glass Studios’. Colours are rich reds, blues and yellows against pale backgrounds. Crowns, fleur-de-lys, Tudor Roses, lion heads, the torch of knowledge and a crown and waratah border reference cultural ties.
The earliest windows were made for Neutral Bay Presbyterian Church, now St John’s Uniting Church. Two lancet windows beside the altar are signed ‘Designed by Norman St Carter’ (sic) and ‘Painted by F.J. Tarrant, Darlinghurst 1917’. They have a seafaring theme to commemorate the long-term church elder Captain Robert Craig and his wife. A Viking ship in rough, swirling seas and in calm waters feature in the windows with a Presbyterian symbol and sea themed verse.
In the 1920s Carter designed the east window for Christ Church, Queanbeyan, made by Tarrant (1923), two windows for St James’ Church, Pitt Town, also made by Tarrant (1928), a large 3-light window for St Andrew’s Church, Longueville (1928) and a window for the Presbyterian Church, Narromine (1929). He redesigned a figure in one of the set of windows by English firm Heaton, Butler & Bayne for All Saints, Woollahra in 1926.15 His 2-light window in the Langley Chapel c.1934 depicts Christ and St John in vibrant colours. A triple lancet west window with angels beneath the same style canopies looks also to be Carter’s work.
Windows were designed for two historic Sydney Churches, St James Church, King Street and Garden Island Chapel. The 1930 semi-circular window above the entrance at St James depicts James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and their mother grouped around Jesus. There are prominent lead lines on their garments, profuse foliage and a blue banded sky. In addition to the window of HMAS Sydney a 1935 window at Garden Island Chapel depicts Christ walking on the waves with beams of light radiating from his halo, a design feature seen in other windows.
Another 1933 commemorative window has a seated and standing Christ in the left and right-hand lights with children holding flowers and fishermen in the foreground respectively in a characteristically precise composition. Prominently scratched texture is evident on the arms of the seated fisherman. The latest window, commemorating the donor, dates from c.1951. The brightly coloured St John’s windows have a sense of capturing a moment. This aspect of composition suggests photography was an influence on Carter’s designs.
Carter designed a 3-light altar window in the 1930s for Holy Trinity Church, Concord West. Christ in the central light is crowned and holds an orb and bible, flanked by saints David and Paul. Carter is shown painting this figure in the 1935 Art and Australia article. The crowned figure of Christ seen in a number of Carter’s windows lends an air of religious majesty. In 1934 a window was installed in St Columba’s Presbyterian Church, Guyra adding to two earlier windows by Carter.
Carter’s design for an interesting 3-light window on a historical theme was shown in the Society of Artists exhibition in late 1931. Situated in the south transept of the Scottish Presbyterian Church, Drummoyne, it depicts the signing of the Scottish covenant in 1636 and was made by P.O. Barnard.20 The central light has the signing of the document with onlookers and a tartan clad man and woman and young boy in the foreground in the right and left lights. These presumably represent the Howie family that the window commemorates. A finely detailed Scottish royal coat of arms is in the lower central light with an inscription and St Andrew’s cross at the top and a quatrefoil tracery window. Warm dark tones with yellow, white and blue highlights require close inspection to see detailing on garments, particularly cross hatching on tartan and luxuriant patterning on brocade.
Based on style the 3-light window opposite in the north transept is by Carter. The window was unveiled by Sir Thomas and Lady Henley in 1932 in memory of their son Captain Harold Henley who died at Pozieres in 1916.21 The central light has Christ above two angels flanking a kneeling knight in armour. Saints are in the right and left lights with scenes and motifs relating to the AIF and angels in the lower band.
The largest window designed by Carter is at heritage listed St Stephen’s Uniting Church, Macquarie Street which opened in 1935. Three previous Presbyterian churches preceded it and the windows by Lyon, Cottier & Co. from the Phillip Street church were relocated in Ferguson Hall adjacent to the present church. The 7-light altar (west) window with tracery, the Armstrong window, was designed by Carter and made by Standard Glass Studio (P.O. Barnard). It dates from 1936. The most notable feature is the clear soft colouring, including yellow and green, with deeper red and blue on garments of the three central figures, Christ flanked by Faith and Hope. Eight more figures on either side include Moses, David, St Stephen and St Paul. All have strongly outlined facial features. Above the figures are angels, the rainbow of promise, religious symbols and the burning bush and shield of the Presbyterian Church in the lower centre. The overall design of large-scale figures with touches of foliage and sky using small pieces of glass within the lead lines produces a mosaic like effect. A 5-light window with amber quarries opposite complements the yellow tones of the main window.
The north and south walls have five tall 2-light windows each with biblical scenes and heraldic arms in barbed roundels and roundels on clear quarries with blue borders. The darker colouring and technique suggests they were also made by Carter. They date from 1936 to 1954.
A 2-light window in the southern staircase c.1939 depicts St Andrew and St Mark with below Iona Abbey and Flynn Memorial Church, Alice Springs. These churches have Australian wildflowers with the Scottish thistle and Sturt’s desert pea as local reference. They also look to be by Carter.
St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Canberra has two large 4-light windows in the transepts. The Resurrection window, a memorial to the service men and women who died in World War I, was installed in the Warrior’s Chapel in 1948. In the lower section figures from the armed forces are seated, some seen back view, and standing looking upward at Christ flanked by angels and religious symbols in the upper section. More angels and coats of arms are in the eight vertical tracery windows with small tracery above. There is an effective gradation of colouring from brown and dark blue uniforms to yellow, pink, green and blues of the figures above and paler tones in the tracery windows. The treatment of this vibrant window points to P.O. Barnard. Carter reputedly based one figure on Colonel M.J. Holmes, Chief Medical Officer, Commonwealth Military Forces.
The 4-light Redemption window opposite installed in 1950 has an overall pattern and colouring more akin to the window at St Stephen’s, Macquarie Street, though incorporating deeper tones. Scenes from Christ’s life from birth to resurrection occupy most of the lower section with angels and symbols above. The vertical traceries have the rainbow, symbols of the Evangelists, the New Jerusalem and angels with more symbols. The arrangement of figures in bands and a decorative border at the bottom reference traditional design. This window looks to have been made by Carter. A 5-light window with amber quarries opposite complements the yellow tones of the main window. A figurative design by Carter intended for this window can be seen on the stairway.
Two trefoil cusped windows in the Warrior’s Chapel depicting St Michael and St Gabriel (1951) are Carter’s designs.24 A third with a cross and poppies bordered by waratahs (1949) commemorates the church’s first minister, Rev Dr John Walker. Beside the chapel a 3-light window above the pulpit is Carter’s last window made for the church depicting Moses, Christ and St Paul with angels (1953).25
Eight 3-light clerestory windows with tracery were installed in St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney, beginning with two in 1945 and finishing with a window replacing one by Ashwin & Falconer in 1956. Subjects are the first church service in the colony, missionary work to indigenous people in the colony, New Guinea, Norfolk Island; Chinese students and Tanganyika clergy; and Bishop Broughton’s centenary. The figures are grouped to indicate the work of the mission with heraldic lower borders containing coats of arms of the country, cities, universities, Anglican sees and bishops. A religious symbol above the central figure, elegant angels and lush foliage complete the design and the border patterns suggest the cultures depicted. The window depicting the Rev Richard Johnson preaching the first service in the colony in the presence of Governor Phillip includes the rainbow of promise and a local reference in the waratahs.
The lead lines and small pieces of glass give the windows a mosaic appearance which is more pronounced than at St Stephen’s, Macquarie Street due to their brilliant colouring, particularly scarlet, bright green, gold and cobalt blue. White in the lower border and in some garments adds to the mosaic effect. In one respect there is a reflection of Carter’s background as a painter in these as in his other windows; it is that the treatment rather than the effect of light through the glass gives the windows their vibrancy.
1 Norman Carter, Notes Prepared for an Autobiography, State Library of NSW, MLMSS 471/5 (CY2547), p.17.
2 Sydney Morning Herald, 18 June 1921, p.14. http://www.trove.nla.gov.au
3 Norman Carter Papers 1899-1961, State Library of NSW, MLMSS 471, Box 4/Item 1.
4 Carter, Notes for an Autobiography, p.13.
5 Carter Papers.
6 Stained Glass Work in Sydney, Art and Australia, February 15th, 1935.
7 Carter, Notes for an Autobiography, p.19.
8 Carter Papers. Huntley is spelled Huntly.
9 Carter, Notes for an Autobiography, p.51.
10 Jenny Zimmer (1984), Stained Glass in Australia, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, p.114.
11 A news report in 1940 noted that although Australian artists had attempted to introduce Australian themes in architectural settings their use remained limited due to lack of interest by clients and the public. SMH, 16 November 1940, p.9.
12 P.J. Yeend in association with The King’s School Archive (1972), A Short Account of The King’s School Chapel, p.10.
13 Yeend, p.14. King’s Archives dates the Arnott window as 1923 and the Milson window as after August 1915, before 1917.
14 Carter, Notes for an Autobiography, p.51.
15 Watchman, 29 April 1926, p.8.
16 SMH, 13 November 1922, p.10.
17 SMH, 6 May 1930, p.9. Although Tarrant’s firm closed in mid-1928 he was reported later as working with Carter for windows at St James, Pitt Town.
18 SMH, 24 October 1933, p.7.
19 Carter Papers.
20 The Australasian, 12 September 1931, p.11.
21 SMH, 25 April 1932, p.6.
22 SMH, 15 November 1932, p.6.
23 National Advocate, 14 November 1949, p.2.
24 Canberra Times, 9 November 1951, p.4.
25 Canberra Times, 10 December 1953, p.2.
26 Susan E.M. Kellett (2016), Australia’s Martial Madonna: the army nurse’s commemoration in stained glass windows (1919-1951), PhD thesis, School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry, The University of Queensland.
27 Phone conversation with Kevin Little 16 March 2017.
28 National Advocate, 1 February 1930, p.7.