John Brock 1888 – 1973
John Brock was one of the most prolific stained glass window designers in New Zealand, designing and painting more than 300 stained glass windows in his lifetime. Born in London, at the age of 15 he began a seven year apprenticeship with James Powell & Sons, and was taught drawing, design and perspective. In 1913 he worked in Melbourne, then in 1914 he moved to Dunedin to work for Smith & Smith Ltd.
A few years later he formed a new company with Arthur Raffles, called Arnold, Brock & Raffills. Brock soon began to do the stained glass design and glass painting work for himself, while Raffills staff constructed the windows. Brock’s ecclesiastical windows were initially formal, with an elaborate ‘canopy design’ at the top, but in later years he introduced more modern styles.
John Brock, called ‘Bronkie’, by all who knew him, produced many domestic windows during the first few decades of the 20th century, when wealthy families were adding pictorial stained glass windows to their houses. One of his specialties was landscapes, often recognisable by his stylised trees, rolling hills, rounded clouds and unusual colours. One notable work was a ceiling dome, containing portraits of eight composers. Brock painted numerous murals around Dunedin, and designed the interior of the Savoy Restaurant. His biggest project was the murals with Eastern/Moorish/Indian themes painted in Dunedin’s Empire Theatre (later called the St James and now the Rialto). This work was internationally recognised as a fine example of the lavish ‘atmospheric theatre’ style popular in the 1920s – 30s. In 1952 a ruthless renovation hid most of Brock’s work, but today some of his work is exposed and can be seen in the remodelled Rialto.
Brock taught art, stained glass and china painting at the Dunedin School of Art from 1915 – 1919, and he was also an active member of the Otago Art Society. He exhibited at the NZ Academy of Fine Arts and in 1924 won a medal for a landscape at the British Empire Exhibition in London. John Brock was a hardworking, versatile and prolific artist; he was also a sociable character, who loved motorcycles and the high life. He designed his last window at the age of 80 for the St Barnabas Church, Khandallah. Few records are left of Brock’s designs or cartoons, but he has left a legacy of stained glass windows in Dunedin houses and in churches all over New Zealand. His sight became impaired at the end of his life and he died in 1973, aged 85.