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"Light Screens: The Leaded Glass of Frank Lloyd Wright"
2003-03-14 until 2003-07-20
Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Office of Public Affairs, DC, USA

Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) is famous for his innovative architecture; less well known are his designs for decorative windows. "Light Screens: The Leaded Glass of Frank Lloyd Wright," looks at 48 stained glass windows by this icon of American architecture. This exhibition, on view at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum from March 14 through July 20, 2003, includes two architectural models and 13 original plates from two of Wright's portfolios. This definitive presentation highlights Wright's innovative "light screens" combining expanses of clear glass with touches of color in bold geometric patterns.

"Frank Lloyd Wright is such a giant figure in the story of 20th-century American culture, architecture and design," said Elizabeth Broun, the Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. "The museum is delighted to present this thoughtful exhibition of Wright's work to our audiences in Washington, D.C."

"This exhibition considers Wright's unique conception of the role of ornamental glass," said Kenneth Trapp, curator-in-charge of the Renwick Gallery. "'Light Screens' investigates his radical reinterpretation of the window in America's Arts and Craft movement at the turn-of-the-century, the country's growing internationalism and new methods of glass production and building construction."

Wright's exploration of light and color in patterned windows is newly considered in the exhibition. Of the windows featured, many are being shown to the public for the first time and nearly half are drawn from private collections throughout North America. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation has lent significant windows for this exhibition. Other loans were made possible by several current restoration projects at major Wright buildings that have required the temporary removal of the delicate glass panes.

From 1885 to 1923, decorative glass windows were an integral part of Wright's architecture. During this period, he designed more than 4,500 windows for 160 buildings, of which almost 100 were completed. These windows were specific to the structures for which they were designed. The evolution of his thinking about architecture, the integration of ornament and the relation of interior space to exterior setting can be studied by a chronological survey of the windows he created. The exhibition 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 challenges conventional wisdom about Wright's use of windows by revealing the extent to which Wright chose to emphasize, not abolish, the separation of inside and outside. Rejecting the opalescent, painterly effects achieved by Louis Comfort Tiffany and John La Farge, Wright used predominantly clear glass and geometric shapes to create screens between inside and outside environments. In his own words, he sought to create "light screens"-a term that evokes Japanese shoji screens, which were arranged in bands like his windows.

The exhibition is divided into three chronological sections: "A Vocabulary of Form, 1885-1899," "A Language of Pattern, 1900-1910" and "A New Poetics, 1911-1923."

The first section of the exhibition explains sources for Wright's earliest designs in glass. Influences include writings by 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. Also cited as an influence is Japanese art and architecture, including the Ho-o-den pavilion, which Wright saw as a young man in 1893 at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The exhibition also examines Wright's childhood training in Friedrich Froebel's exercises that assisted in the development of children's spatial and geometric relationships, an often overlooked source.  

The second section of the exhibition focuses on the fruitful period in Wright's career that led to the design of his Prairie-style houses and his invention of a distinctive rectilinear design vocabulary. An exhibition highlight is a green and gold windowpane with a "sumac" design from one of Wright's most famous commissions, the Susan Lawrence Dana House in Springfield, Ill. This window was created as a prototype for the house, which still stands intact today.

The final section of the exhibition demonstrates the dramatic change in Wright's approach to the window form after a European tour exposed him to the modernist movements of the time. Among the works in this section are four windows created for the "playhouse" built as an annex to the Avery Coonley house in Chicago. The Coonley playhouse windows-abstracted and syncopated shapes of balloons, American flags and confetti-are considered by many to be the finest Wright ever designed.

"Light Screens: The Leaded Glass of Frank Lloyd Wright" is organized by Exhibitions International, N.Y. in cooperation with The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, Ariz. The exhibition and its national tour are sponsored by Steelcase Inc. The exhibition's presentation at the Renwick Gallery is supported by the James Renwick Alliance and Steelcase Inc. Julie L. Sloan, scholar, author and glass conservator, organized the exhibition. Kenneth Trapp, curator-in-charge, oversaw the installation of this exhibition at the Renwick Gallery. A free brochure is available in the exhibition.

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