Past Exhibitions

Light Screens: The Leaded Glass Of Frank Lloyd Wright

Exhibition Through January 5, 2003

The Orange County Museum of Art was the only West Coast stop on the five venue national tour of the innovative leaded glass windows designed by celebrated American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The most comprehensive set ever assembled, this exhibition included fifty original windows and a large selection of prints and photographs. Important windows were lent by The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, Arizona, and other loans were made possible by several current restoration projects at major Wright buildings. The showing of these windows in Light Screens makes the exhibition a once-in-a-lifetime presentation.

The Origin of Light Screens

As a young architect Frank Lloyd Wright bemoaned the fact that he had to cut holes in his beautiful buildings. Yet very soon, America's greatest architect, the future creator of New York's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and other beloved icons of American architecture, had transformed that seemingly most prosaic of everyday forms, the window, making it a defining element in his protean architecture. In so doing, Wright reinvented a centuries-old art.

Decorative glass was integral to Wright's architectural vision, and he expanded the frontiers of stained glass in both its use and its design. He called his windows light screens, a term that evoked Japanese shoji screens, which were arranged in bands, as his windows were. Light Screens explores how Wright came to see the design of window spaces as a way to bring the outside in and to visually unite landscape and interior. The exhibition also challenges conventional wisdom about Wright's use of windows by revealing the extent to which he chose to emphasize, not abolish, the separation of outside and inside. 

The Exhibition

The exhibition is organized chronologically in three sections representing the overlapping phases in the development of Wright's visual language for his window designs. The first section, A Vocabulary of Form, 1885 - 1889, features his earliest glass, designed for houses still close to the Victorian style and characterized by the use of clear glass and curvilinear forms. This section finds sources for Wright's early designs in glass in the writings of Victor Hugo, Eugene Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, John Ruskin, and William Morris, as well as in the decorative patterns devised by his mentor Louis H. Sullivan, and by Owen Jones in his seminal pattern book, The Grammar of Ornament. The exhibition also explores the often overlooked source of Wright's early patterns: his childhood training in Friedrich Froebel's kindergarten methods. Another influence was Japanese art and architecture, including the Japanese pavilion that Wright saw at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

The second section, A Language of Pattern, 1900-1910, focuses on Wright's most fruitful years, when, along with designing his Prairie-style houses, he invented a distinctive rectilinear vocabulary. During this period Wright designed some of his most intricate leaded glass, incorporating symmetrical, rectilinear, and chevron motifs and relying on warm golds, browns, and moss greens, often with iridescent surface effects. Exhibition highlights include the sumac design from one of his most famous commissions, the Susan Lawrence Dana House in Springfield, Illinois. This window was created as a prototype for the house, which still stands intact today. Also on view from this middle period is the "Tree of Life" window from the Darwin D. Martin complex in Buffalo, New York.

The third section of the exhibition, A New Poetics, 1911 - 1923, demonstrates the dramatic change in Wright's window designs, reflecting his exposure to the radical modern art movements in Europe. Some of his largest and most innovative projects were executed during this time. The windows for the playhouse annex to the Avery Coonley house in Chicago, which Wright called a "kinder-symphony" incorporate images of balloons, American flags, and confetti in brilliant colors, including red, blue, green, yellow, and black. His most sophisticated windows, which use a motif of asymmetrical "dancing" triangles, were designed for Midway Gardens in Chicago, the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, and for the Hollyhock House in Los Angeles. 

Although there are more than 23 extant Frank Lloyd Wright buildings in California, the Hollyhock House, built between 1919 and 1921 for oil heiress Aline Barnsdall, was Wright's first project in Los Angeles. It was, however, one of the last in which leaded-glass windows were used. An unusual aspect of the Hollyhock House windows is their purple and green color scheme, designed to match Barnsdall's Japanese screens. In contrast to Wright's Midwestern houses, where the windows were arranged in long bands, the California sun necessitated that these windows be deeply recessed into the walls. Designed by Wright, the Hollyhock House windows were translated into glass by The Judson Studios. The studio's current involvement in the renovation of the Hollyhock House leaded-glass windows highlights Light Screens local Southern California connection.

Steelcase Inc. and Frank Lloyd Wright

Founded in 1912 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Steelcase is the world's preeminent designer and manufacturer of products used to create high-performance work environments. Locally Steelcase is based in Tustin, California. The company's involvement with the work of Frank Lloyd Wright dates to 1937, when Wright consulted closely with Steelcase on the S.C. Johnson & Sons Company administration building in Racine, Wisconsin, in order to develop new forms of desks and chairs. In the years since that fruitful collaboration, Steelcase has continued to contribute to the appreciation of the legacy of Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1985 Steelcase purchased and began the process of restoring Wright's Meyer May House in Grand Rapids. A window from the house is shown in the exhibition. The installation design of Light Screens: The Leaded Glass of Frank Lloyd Wright is by Steelcase Inc.


Julie L. Sloan, a distinguished stained-glass scholar and conservation consultant, is the curator of Light Screens: The Leaded Glass of Frank Lloyd Wright and the author of its two companion books published by Rizzoli International Publications. Sloan's scholarship on the leaded glass of Frank Lloyd Wright was the result of more than 18 years of research.


The exhibition was accompanied by two important books published by Rizzoli International: Light Screens: The Leaded Glass of Frank Lloyd Wright (paperback, $29.95), a 160-page catalogue with 192 color illustrations, which examines Wright's masterly manipulation of light, composition, and color in his patterned windows; and Light Screens: The Complete Leaded Glass of Frank Lloyd Wright (hardcover, $175), a detailed documentation and appraisal of the more than 500 window designs that are major achievements within Wright's oeuvre. The book includes a detailed technical history of Wright's leaded glass production from the 1890s to the 1920s. The exhibition catalogue, as well as other Wright-related merchandise, is available in the Museum shop. 

National Tour

American Craft Museum
New York, New York
May 10- September 2, 2001

Grand Rapids Art Museum
Grand Rapids, Michigan
October 12, 2001- January 6, 2002

Allentown Art Museum
Allentown, Pennsylvania
February 21- April 28, 2002

High Museum of Art
Atlanta, Georgia
June 8- September 1, 2002

Orange County Museum of Art
Newport Beach, California
October 5, 2002- January 5, 2003

Renwick, Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Washington, D.C.
March 14- July 20, 2003

Image Credit: Frank Lloyd Wright, Prototype Window, 1902-04; Susan Lawrence Dana House, Springfield, IL, clear glass, cathedral glass, iridized glass, brass cames, 46 1/8 x 31/1/2 inches; Lent by Richard W. Bock Sculpture Collection, Greenville College, Greenville, IL

Exhibition Credits

Light Screens: The Leaded Glass of Frank Lloyd Wright is organized by Exhibitions International, New York, in cooperation with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Taliesin West, Scottsdale, AZ.

This exhibition and its national tour are sponsored by Steelcase Inc.


The Orange County Museum of Art presentation is made possible by a generous lead sponsorship from Lincoln, and the sponsorship support of Room & Board and Retrospect Home Furnishings, with additional support from Visionaries, and the Historical Collections Council (as of July 8, 2002).