Jonah Jones (17 February 1919–29 November 2004) was born Leonard Jones in the north east of England, but was known as a Welsh sculptor, writer and artist-craftsman. He worked in many media, but is especially remembered as a sculptor, mainly in stone but also in other materials. His glass work was of a similarly high order. He was noted too for his letter-cutting and his watercolour paintings both of landscapes and fine lettering.
The eldest of four children, Jonah 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 was later 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, Jonah’s career began at the Caseg Press 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 Jonah established a full-time workshop practice, one of the few in Wales who were able at that time to earn a living solely from art.
He worked in many media, making his mark as a sculptor in stone, letter-cutter and painter of vernacular lettering. He taught himself the traditional techniques of stained and leaded glass and the newer ones of concrete glass and dalles de verre. He painted in watercolour, including a distinctive body of work based on vernacular inscriptions, 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 included work for the chapels of Ratcliffe College, Leicestershire; Ampleforth College, North Yorkshire; and Loyola Hall, Rainhill, Merseyside; St Patrick’s Catholic church, Newport, Gwent; the National Museum 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’ (“The Word was central to my working life”, as he explained in a 1998 essay).
He found time, too, to work in the field of art education, acting as external assessor and examiner to many colleges of art throughout the UK from 1961 to 1992. He served for 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.
Novels: A Tree May Fall, Bodley Head, 1980, ISBN 0370303202; Zorn, William Heinemann Ltd, 1987, ISBN 0434377341. Travel: The Lakes of North Wales, Whittet Books, 1983, ISBN 0905483545; republished by Y Lolfa, 2002, ISBN 0862436265. Essays: The Gallipoli Diary, Seren Books/Poetry Wales Press Ltd, 1989, ISBN 1854110101. Biography: Clough Williams-Ellis: Architect of Portmeirion, Seren Publishing, 1997, ISBN 1854112147.
And published posthumously:
Diaries and letters: The Gregynog Journals, Scene & Word Ltd, 2010, ISBN 9780956431400; republished in paperback 2019, ISBN 9780956431417; Dear Mona: Letters from a Conscientious Objector, Seren Publishing, 2018, ISBN 9781781724798.