December 10, 2021

‘There are landscapes, figure groups, single figures, altar pieces, chasubles, wall hangings large and small – and it feels as if Bolton Morris over the years has been trying to respond to each motif on its own term. Obviously his is a career that has never gone on automatic pilot.’ Victoria Donahue, Art Critic of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Bolton explored every imaginable medium and technique. Here a simple ceramic plaque which I date to about 1959 – as ‘Mid-Century Modern’ as it comes. Both dynamic and charming, though he’d hate my saying that, but never ‘on automatic pilot’. That restlessness rewarded him with a life of economic poverty, but of spiritual wealth. An Oblate of the Benedictines in Portsmouth RI, this plaque probably meant a great deal to him which is why it survived.

Graphic Artist

January 18, 2021

It’s been years now since I posted on this blog, not for want of desire, but for feeling I had exhausted the images I have. However a recent find brought to mind Bolton Morris as a graphic designer. And though I’ve discussed his graphic work before I think it’s worth revisiting. I’ve often mentioned his quick sketches done on the kitchen table with me or another disciple sitting opposite. These he would refine, though at times the quick version was what he wanted to say.

Here are three examples – the last of which I’ve not shown before. The first image comes from Bolton’s “workshop” card done roughly 1960 showing St Dunstan Patron Saint of Church Artists.

Next is St Lawrence made as a holy card for the ordination of a Deacon in 1986.

But the last is extraordinary – a holy card for the funeral mass of a priest in 1983.

I regard it as a work of genius, not that everything Bolton did was a work of genius, but here as he often did he rose to the occasion and that, encouraged no doubt by being given free reign by someone he respected. In this case the late Msgr Richard Simons longtime pastor of ST Anastasia’s Church in Newtown Square PA where Bolton did a number of excellent pieces, some of which are no longer in use (the clergy sometimes feel their personal taste is more important than the parish patrimony). The card was in honor of his brother Msgr Thomas Simons the longtime pastor of St Matthew’s Church Conshohocken, PA.

So I leave you to think about this kind of design – tiny pieces, yet powerful ones despite their scale.

The New Church ca 1970

February 28, 2016


This is perhaps a more autobiographical post than others as I happened upon Bolton Morris’ work as I was just beginning my own pursuit of liturgical art. I had a meeting with an advisor who suggested I have a look at his then new windows at St Katherine of Siena parish in Wayne, PA, which was only one block from my own parish of St Mary’s. I had in fact seen them and admired the new church. He thought I ought to meet him and quite by accident a few months late, I did and  it was unforgettable.

St Katherine’s Church was newly built circa 1970 to replace a noble, but somewhat smaller Victorian gothic church that had been fitted up with elegant furnishings. The new church was the work of Dagit Architects who were for decades the principal architects for the Philadelphia Archdiocese and their work is somewhat mixed, no doubt as with many design projects, due to budgetary constraints. Wayne is an affluent town and so it remains a rather successful building of its time. The glass, too, represents the liturgical design that was au courant in those days.



One of the grandees of the parish was Henry Clifford, curator of painting of the Philadelphia Museum of Art who had been responsible for some of the elegant fittings in the old church and he knew Bolton’s work and his family as well, so Bolton was the natural choice for all the stained glass in the building.

He admitted, no insisted, that it wasn’t his best work, but these are a few examples from this enormous project.


Graphic Bits

July 27, 2015

With great frequency Bolton was asked to produce graphic ornament for service leaflets and mass cards &c. Here is an example from 1989. This was a leaflet for a mass commemorating the twenty-fifth anniversary of priestly ordination of a beloved friend and the gospel reading for the day (it being Lent 4) was that of the Prodigal Son. To me this narrative design is very charming and full of what Bolton called “incident”. ProdigalSon

Later On

February 4, 2015


With little commentary, I wanted to publish this late photo of Bolton taken sometime in the 1990s. Here he is posing casually with a processional cross he had just finished. This may have been made for the Catholic Chapel at Byberry State Hospital, an institution for the mentally ill. If so, it was part of a full fitting out with new furnishings at the hospital chapel with which I was privileged to assist him. In any event Bolton made quite a large number of crucifixes over his long career and many included Adam and Eve as this does. This is an example of his most stripped down modern design – the sort of thing he used for spaces that seemed to him to demand it.

More graphic design

January 3, 2014





In 1976 the Archdiocese of Philadelphia hosted the 41st International Eucharistic Congress. Bolton Morris, the Rev’d John Miller, and Victoria Donohoe, a local art critic, were among the committee to select works of art for an exhibition of liturgical art that would accompany the congress and exemplify Catholic standards of art in service to the liturgy. It was an interesting exhibition with some remarkable works by internationally known artists – one of the great Matisse chasubles from the chapel of the Holy Rosary at Vence (France) was shown – but the general tone was very much of its period .

Additionally Bolton and some others (myself included) were asked to design covers for the programs of various liturgies. Here are three examples of his covers. The first shows a clear debt to the work of Thomas Bewick, but texts from the psalms of the liturgies were the suggested themes for the cover designs. These were all done with ‘magic markers’ imitating wood engraving.

The Discriminating Eye

May 2, 2012

Few people had the gift of self-examination that Bolton had. He was keenly aware of his failings – sometimes to the point of preventing forward motion.  This hard look at himself is undated, but I recall he was working on it in the early 1970s – it was abandoned as were many projects over time – perfectionism produces its own flaws. It is certainly not a lovely image, except that for those of us who loved him it might inspire us to do some soul-searching of our own. I doubt I could be as honest as he showed himself to be here. Suitably for a hard look at oneself it is larger than life-size and is classical painting in the academic fashion as taught at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art where he studied following the Second World War. I pray for Bo regularly and I hope he is praying for me.

Banner Proposal

December 29, 2011

Bolton would no doubt be annoyed that I include this gouache image on illustration board. Sorry, Bo!

These designs, dating I think to the 1950s, were for a series of four banners with the theme “We Build With Christ” and were to have been executed in appliqué embroidery, a medium he took to high art with his later series for the 1976 Eucharistic Congress. I do not believe these were ever executed. Do click on the image for a closer view that included his notes on each design.

Many Times

August 18, 2011

Over and over again, like all liturgical artists, Bolton was asked to reinvent the wheel. How many crucifixes did he make, or how many Madonnas? Who knows? I certainly watched him make several sets of Stations of the Cross, some never finished. Here’s an example of how he worked out the problem. Christ Takes up the Cross; anguish (something Bolton knew a great deal about), pain, suffering.

His method varied but here a common approach for him – done on the kitchen table as he often did. Hasty impression laid in in ball point pen (!) and then the steady broad brush strokes in sepia wash. He might hesitate for days over a project, but when it came time to lay brush to paper or panel – the hesitancy was past.


February 12, 2011

Here they are – the two final versions of the episcopal coats of arms Bolton designed that were ultimately rejected. You will note the second is the final version of the sketch from the preceding post.