Special Collections Twenty at 20: McCahon’s glorious glass

To mark this year’s 20th anniversary of Special Collections, the curators have selected some intriguing items for the Twenty at 20 series. Here is number four.

Colin McCahon’s drawings transformed into glass


One of the joys of working with researchers is sharing in their discoveries and gaining extra insights into particular items in our collections thanks to their knowledge and research. A researcher’s identification of two stained-glass window designs by artist Colin McCahon in the archive of architect James Hackshaw is one such example.1

Author Bridget Hackshaw identified the window drawings in her father’s archive while undertaking research for her new book, The architect and the artists: Hackshaw, McCahon, Dibble: the collaborative projects 1965-1979, which explores the 12 projects Hackshaw, McCahon and sculptor Paul Dibble worked on together.

These McCahon drawings ended up being instrumental in confirming the authenticity of the actual windows, which were originally designed for the MacKillop College Chapel in Rotorua in the 1970s but had since been removed and refitted into another school building.

Most people associate McCahon with bold, often large-scale paintings, while his windows are less well known. The slightly tatty, life-sized, one metre square, pencil on tracing paper working drawings, held together with old discoloured sticky tape, are not instantly recognisable as his work. However, they are likely to have been integral to the creation of the windows judging by the myriad of notes scrawled across them and their less than pristine condition.

After the windows were authenticated – based on these drawings and smaller ones Hackshaw saw later in McCahon’s archive in the Hocken Library — they were moved again in 2020 and installed in their third home in the Thurston Performing Arts Centre at John Paul College.2

The extensive Hackshaw collection contains more than 300 sheets of drawings and two metres of photographs and project records, so there are bound to be other exciting items like this waiting for researchers to find, interpret and share through new scholarship.


Discover more

Sarah Cox, Archivist


1 James Hackshaw architectural drawings and papers. MSS & Archives Arch 2020/14
2 MacKillop College and Edmund Rice College were merged to become John Paul College in 1987.

Photographs: McCahon designed windows © Bridget Hackshaw