Mark Greaves

Let there be light | 20 August 2011

The bare brickwork of Westminster Cathedral’s ceiling was always meant to be covered in mosaic. Mark Greaves meets<br /> Tessa Hunkin, who will bring the project to life

The bare brickwork of Westminster Cathedral’s ceiling was always meant to be covered in mosaic. Mark Greaves meets
Tessa Hunkin, who will bring the project to life

Three years ago, Tessa Hunkin was asked if she would like to undertake the biggest mosaic project since the Hagia Sophia. The project, which would probably take decades and cost tens of millions of pounds, was to decorate the ceiling of Westminster Cathedral. Monsignor Mark Langham, then cathedral administrator, told her, ‘We will have work for you for the rest of your life.’

The cathedral, built in 1903, was always meant to be covered in mosaic. The bare brickwork of its vast domes and vaults is not part of the design — it was just never finished. But momentum is building to change that. A businessman, John Hughes, wants to pay to get the project off the ground.

The first step is deciding who should draw up a design. The cathedral art committee has spent endless meetings discussing which artists might be suitable, and is not yet close to a decision. The person in charge of bringing that design to life, though, will most likely be Tessa Hunkin.

I meet her in her tiny central London studio. It is almost like a sweetshop: jars of brightly coloured glass and ceramic fill every shelf. She has spent much of the last decade creating mosaics for chapels, panels and apses at Westminster Cathedral; at one point she had ten employees. Now, though, she is on her own.

Hunkin is very fond of the cathedral. Its scale and simplicity, she says, are powerful. In fact, the challenge of the mosaic design, she suggests, is not to wreck it — not to ‘screw up the space’. A plain design might be better, she says.

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