Jonah Jones

Jonah Jones (17 February 1919 – 29 November 2004) was born Leonard Jones in the north east of England, but known as a Welsh sculptor, writer and artist-craftsman. He worked in many media, but is especially remembered as a sculptor in stone, lettering-artist and calligrapher.

The eldest of four children, Jones was born in 1919 near Wardley, Tyne and Wear. His father was a local man who had been a coalminer before being invalided in the First World War, his mother came from Yorkshire.

Registering in the Second World War as a conscientious objector, Jonah Jones was enlisted in the British Army as a non-combatant. He served in 224 Parachute Field Ambulance, within the 6th Airborne Division, taking part in the Ardennes campaign and the airdrop over the Rhine at Wesel in March 1945.

Following demobilisation in 1947, Jones’ career began in a shared practice with the artist John Petts in North Wales, followed soon after by a short, intensive stay at the workshop of the late Eric Gill, where he learned the techniques of lettering and carving in stone.

During the 1950s Jones established a full-time workshop practice, one of the few who were able at that time in Wales to earn a living solely from art.

Jonah Jones worked in many media. He cut letters in slate, carved in stone and produced bronze busts. He taught himself both the traditional techniques of stained and leaded glass and the newer ones of concrete glass. He painted in watercolour, a medium in which he produced a distinctive body of work based on vernacular calligraphy, a technique in which the artist and poet David Jones was a major influence. He also produced two published novels, a book of largely autobiographical essays, an illustrated book about the lakes of North Wales, and a biography of Clough Williams-Ellis, the architect of Portmeirion.

Jonah Jones’s major public commissions include work for the chapels of Ratcliffe College, Leicestershire; Ampleforth College, North Yorkshire; and Loyola Hall, Rainhill, Merseyside; St Patrick’s Catholic church, Newport, Monmouth; the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff; Coleg Harlech, Gwynedd; and Mold Crown Court, Flintshire. His private work is marked by a preoccupation with Christian imagery and biblical themes (particularly that of Jacob), the Welsh mythological tales of the Mabinogion, the landscape of North Wales, and the Word.

He found time, too, to work in the field of art education, acting as external assessor to many colleges of art throughout the UK during the 1960s and 1970s, culminating in a four-year period as director of Dublin’s National College of Art and Design, 1974–1978, a period in which he was also a director of the Kilkenny Design Workshops.

His treatment of Welsh subject matter and working of Welsh-language texts were abiding themes throughout his half-century career in Wales.

Selected writings

  • A Tree May Fall, Bodley Head, 1980, ISBN 0370303202
  • The Lakes of North Wales, Whittet Books, 1983, ISBN 0905483545
  • Zorn, William Heinemann Ltd, 1987, ISBN 0434377341
  • The Gallipoli Diary, Seren Books/Poetry Wales Pr Ltd, 1989, ISBN 1854110101
  • Clough Williams-Ellis: Architect of Portmeirion, Seren Publishing, 1997, ISBN 1854112147

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