LITTLE, Kevin John (1930-)

by Karla Whitmore

Stained glass artist and restorer Kevin John Little was born in Sydney in 1930. Both his father, William Little, and grandfather, David McColl Little, worked in stained glass. David McColl Little established D.M. Little & Co. in Barden Street, Arncliffe in 1905 advertising as leadlight workers and glass merchants.

DM Little Advertisement

In the 1920s the proprietors were Little, his son-in-law Walter Podmore and Sydney Whitworth who together ran a short-lived similar business in Belmore. In 1932, D.M. Little’s business went into liquidation.[1] Although the situation was not resolved for eleven years, the firm’s name continued to be used. From 1945 William ran a studio at the same location advertising as W. Little[2] and progressively from 1953 Kevin Little took over the business which became known as Arncliffe Glass.

Fig. 1: D.M. Little & Co. Advertisement post 1905.  Kevin Little Collection   Photograph: Karla Whitmore

David McColl Little migrated to Australia from Scotland and joined leading interior decorating and stained glass studio Lyon, Cottier & Co. in 1890 where he trained in leadlighting which he soon mastered. After establishing his own studio he made residential and ecclesiastical windows.

Leadlight by D.M. Little

Fig. 2:  Example of David McColl Little’s residential leadlights in 1920s.  Kevin Little Collection.      Photograph: Karla Whitmore

The studio employed around 15 staff and some apprentices. During drought and trade downturn of the early 1900s David McColl Little provided trainee apprenticeship certificates to young unemployed men. When these men moved on to new positions in the leadlight field they regularly re-used the studio’s designs for residential buildings.[3] In 1927 it was noted that the studio employed dozens of men and that consignments of glass were imported by sea.[4]

William and his nine siblings, who are pictured in a photo held by Rockdale Library, learnt to make decorative leadlights.[5] Under William Little the studio produced many windows for residential properties. The studio continued to operate under Kevin Little until the property at Arncliffe was sold in 2017. It was a time capsule of glass and equipment dating from the early twentieth century. The studio with Kevin Little at work is shown in Luminary, a film by Howard Matthew (2016).

Kevin Little trained in art at East Sydney Technical College and learnt on the job at his father’s studio from 1946. He worked at P.O. Barnard’s Standard Glass studio at Strathfield in the late 1940s-early 1950s.

Little Kevin in studio 2015

Fig. 3:  Kevin Little at the Arncliffe studio in 2016.  Photograph: Karla Whitmore

Kevin Little has designed and made windows for many churches in New South Wales. The first was made for the Anglican Church at Canterbury, followed by windows for St Thomas’ Church, North Sydney and Manly Presbyterian Church (1960s). Bishop Stephen features in the Bishops Walk at Christ Church Cathedral, Newcastle (1960s) and Florence Nightingale at Dubbo Base Hospital (c.1966). Several windows were made for Anglican churches in southern New South Wales. Three windows were made for St Clement’s Church, Kingston, Tasmania (1960s) and a window for a church in Te Puke, New Zealand (1960s).

Little Manly Presbyterian

Fig. 4: Kevin Little: St Cecilia, Presbyterian Church, Manly 1960s.    Photograph: Karla Whitmore

He made a window for St Jude’s Church, Bowral (1993) and three for St Matthew’s Church, Albury (1994) following a disastrous fire.  In 2012 he made and donated windows to the Light Horse Gallery at Robertson, NSW.  Kevin Little assisted Mark B. Hill in making two windows for the Anglican Cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand, which were destroyed when the church was severely damaged in the 2011 earthquake.

Kevin Little has undertaken significant restoration projects.  One of the earliest was storm damaged panels of the east window featuring the Ascension at the historic Garrison Church (Holy Trinity), Millers Point in Sydney by Charles Clutterbuck. The restoration work in the 1960s is shown in a 1984 film by Film Australia for the Australian Heritage Commission titled Artisans of Australia.  He remade two panels for the staircase window by Lyon, Cottier & Co. at Highclere, Potts Point in the 1970s.  In the 1980s he restored figures in the Oxford and Royal windows at the Great Hall at Sydney University by Clayton & Bell and in the 1990s a panel of the Bennett window in the Anderson Stuart Building at the university’s medical school. He also restored the window of the Evangelists designed by Edward Burne-Jones in St Barnabas Chapel, Norfolk Island.

The recreation of the 5-light east window by Lyon, Cottier & Co. at St Matthew’s Church, Albury, which was destroyed in a disastrous fire in 1991, required the skills of a master craftsman. Working from a black and white photograph Kevin Little remade the figures of Christ, Matthew and the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the style of Lyon, Cottier & Co.  In addition he created the tracery window design featuring Christ as Saviour of the World. The Phoenix window which commemorates recovery from the fire incorporates the surviving original porch window by Ferguson and Urie. A rose window and window depicting St Francis were also designed and made by Kevin Little. The restored church is listed on the NSW Heritage Register.

Little Phoenix window

Fig. 5: Kevin Little, Phoenix window incorporating the surviving porch window (Ferguson & Urie c1870s), St Matthew’s Anglican Church, Albury 1994.     Photograph: Karla Whitmore

Another major restoration was the stained-glass windows at St Carthage’s Catholic Cathedral, Lismore, which were severely damaged by a hailstorm in 2007. Kevin Little was commissioned to undertake the work after reference to the British Society of Master Glass Painters and ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites).[6] The rose window with the figure of the Blessed Virgin was remade by him from the original drawings by Lyon, Cottier & Co. and other windows of saints were remade in 2006-2012. A few surviving fragments of glass were used as reference for matching the glass and painting technique. Six tall lancet windows commemorate the work of the Presentation Sisters and the Marist Fathers, St Dominic and St Catherine of Siena and St Vincent’s Hospital, Lismore. The cathedral has heritage classification.

Kevin Little has been a consultant to the National Trust of Australia (NSW), the Australian Heritage Commission (since 2003 the Heritage Council), Powerhouse Museum and the former NSW Department of Public Works. He has given workshops and talks on the manufacture of stained glass and guided talks on historic church windows.

1. Government Gazette, 5 August 1932. The company continued to advertise in Sands NSW Directory, John Sands, Sydney, 1932-1943.
2. Wise’s New South Wales Post Office Directory, H. Wise & Co. Pty Ltd, Sydney.
3. Conversation with Kevin Little 30 August 2018.
4. Smith’s Weekly, 17 December 1927.
6. Conversation with Kevin Little 30 August 2018.