Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

The Magic of Handling Earth (BPL 488), By Light of Sun, circa 1941

SKU: 6014
Original woodblock (cancelled)
5 3/4 x 4 in. (14.5 x 10.3 cm)

Height – 14.5cm x Width – 10.3cm


The Artist’s Estate

The Magic of Handling Earth was published in Elsie Syminton’s By Light of Sun, in 1941, an account of establishing a garden in America by a transplanted Englishwoman. Leighton herself moved to America in 1939 and became a naturalised citizen in 1945.

A talk given shortly after the end of the Second World War, perhaps in 1946 or 1947. Clare had had a passionate horror of war ever since burying the stained and tattered uniform of her brother Roland who died of wounds on the western front in 1915. Her comments below, though inspired by the Second World War, retain their significance today.

An eighty-year-old friend of mine down in North Carolina who is something of a homespun philosopher remarked: ‚ÄúThere’s a whole heap of things we can begin to see to, when the war done ceases more‚Äù. He saw the ending of war as a gradual process, not one joyful event. This set me thinking that wars do not necessarily end when the fighting stops; the world that made it possible may still be with us. I realized that the difference between war and peace today is not a matter of black and white, it is a gradualism. And so, when I try to talk to you about the artist’s place in the world today, I am talking about a world that is still blurred by war. War does not cease with the end of the killing; the state of war in our minds endures. And it is a more complicated, subtly dangerous state perhaps than the war itself. It is charged with potential danger, more confusion and chaos.

A lot of people were frightened of the end of the war; of its challenge. That is where the artist must come in.

I am not talking of the artist specifically as painter, or engraver, or sculptor; I am talking of the artist in general. The artist is the seismograph, the sensitised plate; the receiving station for life. The artist’s sensitivity enables him to see and sense things, if not before they happen, at least before they are recognised by the world at large.

I am talking of the artist and his relationship to life. The artist is above race, creed, class and so on, for visual art, like music, can be

understood by the entire world. And the artist has never been more important. I believe that in Buddhist ethics, one of the deadly sins is a lack of awareness. The artist’s task is to re- awaken awareness, to re-sensitise it. War produces an emotional deadness: once, a distant massacre or a faraway earthquake moved us to righteous indignation. Now, here in America, the whole of Europe might starve and we would hardly be aware of it. There is a cataract over the eyes of the spirit. The artist must be the quickener of the world; we have seen the death of tenderness. As E.M.Forster put it, ‚Äúwe must not let ourselves be numbed by horrors‚Äù.

What were we fighting for? For freedom. Freedom to live fully, which means to create our own symbols of freedom and pass them on to others; to allow for a new set of experiences and a new capacity for them.

We are on the edge of a new civilisation and it is up to us to shape it. As the twig is bent, the tree will grow. It is a tender, young civilisation scarcely born, and it can be shaped in materialism or into the things of the mind and spirit. We artists have a strange sense of hurry – hurry before it is too late; hurry before the world has taken hold of its new values based on ‚Äúthings‚Äù. I have noticed this in many of my fellows. Nylon stockings are not worth our men having died; nor are motor cars. Nor refrigerators, nor limitless gasoline nor vacations in Florida. We owe a debt to our dead. This can only be paid in the slightest degree by creating a new world. This means a really new world, not one with its old values. I can now speak as an American, being a self- elected immigrant and taking out my papers. We run the risk of being a defeated country, for we are putting our faith in things. Apart from our mental values, we must reconstruct the world’s symbols which we have had to tear down: Monte Cassino, the Mantegna paintings at Padua; the churches, buildings and libraries. We must slave to rebuild, so that there is as little guilt as possible; so that this age in the eyes of posterity may not be looked on as an age of the ravager and the destroyer. The beneficent influences throughout the world are Mozart, Hans Andersen and the like – not the big bankers and the automobile manufacturers. We must add our weight to the spiritual side of the balance. There is no time to lose, for we are drifting into fear and chaos.

Chaos! We need a sense of order, of benign order as represented by the seasons, the earth, the art of the Bach fugue. The human being needs benign discipline – we may find it in authoritarian, democratic, or religious form, or in awareness of the arts, but always we need something of ordered creativity. We need order in architecture. This state of mind of happy order is the best guard against

anarchy and totalitarianism. It is better than armies. Our men are coming home. A friend declared that he had put his soul on ice for the duration of the war. Order is needed to fill their empty hands that have grown accustomed to bombs and planes; we dare not let them stay empty.

In rebuilding our world we need something of the spirit to balance this mechanised age. Mankind is not yet adjusted to wholesale mechanisation. Our spirit is lonely. We are still the mute inactive scared creator. There has been anonymous art from the beginning of mankind; there is a creative urge in us all. It must have an outlet. This is the way to make a world in which peace is a vital, enduring thing, and not a mere negation of the state of war.

We are grateful to David Leighton for allowing the use of the above text – an extract from Clare Leighton, The growth and shaping of an artist-writer, p .47-48), published by The Estate of Clare Leighton, 2009

Exhibited: Sanctuary, Artist-Gardeners, 1919-39, Garden Museum, London, 25th February – 5 April, 2020

Literature: Christopher Woodward, Sanctuary: Artist-Gardeners, 1919–1939, published by Liss Llewellyn, 2020

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Clare Leighton
1898 - 1989

Clare Leighton attended the Brighton School of Art (1915), the
Slade School of Fine Art (1921’23) and the Central School of Arts
and Crafts. Despite her childhood nickname ‘The Bystander’, she
became a hugely visible artist on both sides of the Atlantic, and her
vast oeuvre includes engravings, paintings, bookplates, illustrations
and stained glass. Her twelve plates for Wedgwood, New England
Industries, 1952, are amongst her best-known work. 

She exhibited with the SWE in London (1923) and at the
1934 Venice Biennale ‘ attaining full membership to the Royal
Society of Painter-Etchers and Engravers in the same year. She also
made several tours of the United States, becoming a naturalised
citizen in 1945. By the time of her death, Leighton had authored
twelve books and made over 840 prints.


SKU: 11817

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

Loading the Ponies, Dalmatia


SKU: 11813

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

Jugoslav Gypsies


SKU: 11811

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

Windsor Castle


Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

Toulon Washerwomen


SKU: 11809

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

Road Makers Jugoslavia’ (Dalmatia)


SKU: 11807

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

Dalmatia Spinners


SKU: 11802

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

The Washing Boat


SKU: 11801

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

The Sleepy Fish Wife


SKU: 11127

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

Ellen and Her Children (BPL578), 1944


SKU: 10114

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

The original woodblock for: Lo Children Are an Heritage BPL 660, 1952


SKU: 10115

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

The original woodblock for: The Lord Reigneth BPL 655, 1952


SKU: 9705

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

The original woodblock for: Those were Rolling Hills (Kentucky Scene), BPL 566 1944


SKU: 9693

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

I went by the field (Psalms), BPL 667 1952


SKU: 9697

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

Reading, Writing, Speaking, BPL 730 1959


SKU: 9690

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

Flowers on a hilltop near a bay


SKU: 9692

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

Lighthouse, BPL 688 1954


SKU: 8436

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

Man Drinking from a Gourd


SKU: 8438

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

Worker with bucket, preparation for engraving


SKU: 7750

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

Rural French landscape with houses, circa 1920’s


SKU: 7752

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

French landscape with telephone mast, circa 1920’s


SKU: 7753

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

French landscape with tree, fence and barrel, circa 1920’s


SKU: 7754

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

Study of leather purses and drapes


SKU: 7745

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

Study of Adzes on a stable door


SKU: 7746

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

Study of a butter churn


SKU: 5844

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

The calf auction (BPL7), 1924


SKU: 5712

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

The Malthouse, (BPL 1), 1923


SKU: 5713

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

Resting, 1931


SKU: 5714

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

Barges, (BPL 6)


SKU: 5711

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

Hatteras wreck, circa 1950 (BPL 626)


SKU: 5477

Clare Leighton (1898 - 1989)

Plot 3 (BPL ?)