“Have nothing in your homes you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” — William Morris
This statement was adopted as the motto of the Arts and Crafts movement, and taken to heart by Frank Lloyd Wright, particularly in his stained-glass designs.
Art glass windows and light fixtures bring utility and beauty to the daily act of looking out the window to check the weather or setting the table as you flip the electrical switch to turn on a light. Both beautiful and functional, these small daily tasks embody Morris’ belief, and Wright’s art glass installations.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s functional beauty
Frank Lloyd Wright’s glass design output over his career was nothing short of tremendous. In my opinion, his best work, and what he’s most known for, was produced in a relatively short period of time. From the Bradley House in Kankakee, IL (1900) to the Robie House in Chicago, IL (1906), his designs evolved from the abstraction of plants (usually prairie flowers, grasses and trees) to purely non-figurative, non-representational geometric forms and designs.
We take modern design, with its clean lines and geometric forms, for granted today, but it’s amazing to think that Wright was producing such work at the turn of the 20th century; he was truly ahead of his time.
Selecting the color palette for stained-glass designs
Wright’s glasswork in the Dana-Thomas House (1899) is fitted with silver glass, which, when fired with metal salts becomes iridescent. The iridescent technique was pioneered by Tiffany, but Wright brought a new design idea to its use.
The visual impact of the iridescence is that the glass has a straw-amber color when light passes through it, but looks blue-green when light is reflected on the surface.The idea behind using iridescent glass in windows was to bring a daytime/nighttime contrast to the images within the designs, to take advantage of the dual qualities in the glass.
Wright also used a limited palette in his glasswork, like the Greenes. The predominant colors he used were green, yellow and amber, to bring unity in the design of how he used color in his buildings. These were his “passive” colors because they helped the design blend with the building and environment.
Wright added the juxtaposition of “active” colors in his art glass windows to play off of the passive colors. His active colors — pops of red or blue — alter the apparent size of design elements in the piece, adding more visual weight and drama to the design. This was especially true of his later, more abstract compositions.
Wright was a visual design pioneer, who took some of the newer techniques and ideas, expanded on them, gave them his own twist, and incorporated them into his own master world view, which couldn’t help but influence his contemporaries.