April 1993 Issue 07
Frank Lloyd Wright stained glass
During 1991 a large scale exhibition on Frank Lloyd Wright was held in Japan. In the first issue of the Conservation Journal Lynda Hillyer, Head of the Textiles Section, described some of the work involved in the organisation and care of the exhibition particularly the Kauffman Office on loan from the V&A. When the exhibition originally took place in Japan a special structure was created for the display of the Kauffman office. It was decided to reuse the structure when the room was returned to the V&A, thereby making it possible to put the office on permanent display in the Henry Cole Wing at the V&A, fulfilling Edgar J. Kauffman's wishes when the office was donated in 1974.
Together with the Kauffman office, the recently opened gallery contains a stained glass window triptych designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Originally part of the Coonley Playhouse in Riverside, Illinois, the window was one of a series of three dozen designed in 1912 for a children's playroom. These colourful windows were situated near the ceiling and ran the length of the room. The adventurous design intended to suggest balloons, confetti and flags during a passing parade, was well received at the time although reservations were expressed about the confetti, the clients finding it too abstract.
For a number of months the window was on display in the Stained Glass conservation studio in the hope that enough money could be raised for the triptych to become part of the new gallery. Its arrival in the studio generated a certain amount of excitement, intensified by a rather grand packing case that further limited the available studio space. The studio lightbox required some alterations to cope with such a large object, and to ensure safety. Ultimately, with the aid of the National Art Collections Fund, the window was bought by the Museum. The Coonley window is an exceptional addition to the V&A stained glass collection both artistically and historically.
Formed of geometric shapes and parallel lines, the window's bold design provided a striking contrast to much of the pre-twentieth century glass worked on in the stained glass conservation studio. On examination it was apparent that although the window required little conservation treatment, it did however, present a number of unusual features. Slight alterations in the tone of the metal around one rectangular area confirmed speculation that one of the flags had been replaced at some time. Although the glass was in excellent condition, small chips at the edges of a number of sections provided enough evidence to ascertain that the semi-opaque brightly coloured areas were flashed. Flashed glass is manufactured in layers, one colour on top of another. In this case bright primary colours on white create an almost fluorescent quality, both reflecting and transmitting light.
Described as a leaded window, the metal used in the construction of the piece did not appear to have the characteristic softness or malleability associated with lead, the parallel lines appearing perfectly symmetrical with no chips or blemishes even after eighty years. We could not remove a sample of the metal for identification so the object was transported to the science lab for non destructive analysis. To determine the metal in the 'leads' used in the manufacture of the triptych, examination was made by energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy (EDXRF). The difficulty of focusing the EDXRF onto metal only meant that information from the surrounding areas particularly glass was obtained. For this reason, an area with only clear glass and 'lead' was used for the analysis. The EDXRF spectrum displayed a significant quantity of zinc in the spectrum. This implied that the "lead" examined was in fact manufactured from metallic zinc. It has been noted therefore, that zinc was used by Frank Lloyd Wright in preference to the more traditional lead.
It is unfortunate that the window cannot be viewed in front of natural daylight with all its subtleties and variations. Nevertheless the window is now displayed in the new gallery using artificial daylight lamps. These perhaps stress to a greater extent, Wright's preference for 'clear emphasis of the primitive colour' in stained glass adding a 'higher architectural note to the effect of light itself 1 . Placed at a similar height to its original position in the Clooney playhouse, it is possible to imagine something of the impact the daring design had on the clients who requested the window