About this Collection
This online presentation offers images of nearly 2,500 design sketches for stained glass windows, murals, mosaics, furnishings, metalwork, and interior architecture. The drawings feature striking watercolors created from the 1860s to the 1990s, primarily for churches, synagogues, and other sacred spaces. The J. & R. Lamb Studios was founded in 1857 and is the oldest decorative arts firm in continuous operation in the United States. The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division acquired the drawings from Donald and Donna Samick, the current Lamb Studios president, in 2003. The firm’s historic business records and photographs were donated by Barea Lamb Seeley and Charles Anthony Lamb in 2004.
Digital scans of the sketches, intended for ready reference viewing, display online with each catalog record description. For preservation reasons, the fragile original drawings cannot be served.
Background and Scope
This online presentation of nearly 2,500 preparatory and study sketches for stained glass windows, murals, mosaics, furnishings, metalwork, and interior architecture from the Lamb Studios Archive affords unique insights into changing aesthetics and artistic practices in the United States. The sketches, created from the 1860s to the 1990s, primarily for churches, synagogues, and other sacred spaces, offer a rich body of information concerning material culture over more than one hundred years. The designs are likely to prove of particular interest to people interested in the decorative arts, architecture, religion, the Arts & Crafts Movement, and the ongoing revivals and survivals of Gothic and Neo-Gothic forms. Many of the watercolors are also stunning works of art in their own right.
The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division acquired the design drawings from Donald and Donna Samick, the current Lamb Studios owners, in 2003. Barea Lamb Seeley and her brother Charles Anthony Lamb, great-grandchildren of Studios co-founder Joseph Lamb, donated the firm's historic business records and photographs in 2004. Their generosity also established the J. & R. Lamb Studios Gift Fund for materials in the ecclesiastical arts.
The Archive and the Online Presentation
The Lamb Studios Archive consists of original two-dimensional artwork, photographs, business records, and printed ephemera that document at least 10,000 design projects. The online portion of the Archive initially offers the surviving 2,500 sketches, often presented in multiple views that show the entire drawings, close-up details, and notations on the backs of the mounts.
Most of the digital images in the online presentation are temporary, ready-reference, color digital photographs. Library staff made these jpeg images at a relatively low resolution that is generally not suitable for publication. High resolution TIFF images are available only for those works selected for reproduction [ view items scanned at high resolution].
The remainder of the Lamb Studios Archive has not yet been prepared for service. For further information, see Access to Unprocessed Materials.
Operation of the Studios
The inspirational philosophy for the Lamb Studios' ecclesiastical and secular works appears on one of the drawings ( Lamb no. 1657). In " &x2026; the beautiful words of Shelley 'Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass, stains the white radiance of eternity.' The eternal light of the spirit turns into the rainbow colors of this stained glass window."
The J. & R. Lamb Studios is the oldest decorative arts firm and multi-media guild in continuous operation in the United States and preceded the studios of both John LaFarge and Louis C. Tiffany. The brothers Joseph Lamb (1833-1898) and Richard Lamb (1832-1909) founded the Studios in 1857 in New York City after leaving Lewisham, England. Joseph's son, Charles Rollinson Lamb (1860-1942), a renowned City Beautiful theorist and architect, greatly shaped the company's aesthetic and intellectual character and business direction. Lamb descendents ran the Studios until Karl B. Lamb's death. In 1970, Lamb Studios artist Donald Samick bought the firm and remains its owner in 2006.
Many artists designed works for the Studios including celebrated painter Ella Grace Condie (1862-1936), who married Charles Lamb, and their daughter Katharine Lamb Tait (1895-1981). The names of the artists who signed their designs appear in the Creator/Related Names index.
Before moving to its current location in Clifton, New Jersey, the Lamb Studios operated in:
- New York City (1857-1934);
- Tenafly, New Jersey, (1934-1970);
- Northvale, New Jersey (1970-1979);
- Philmont, New York (1980-1997);
- Ridgewood, New Jersey (1998-2001).
Lamb works were commissioned for and can often still be seen in museums, schools, hospitals, and especially sacred spaces in almost every part of the United States, from southern towns to northern cities and college campuses to military installations, but particularly in churches and synagogues. Among the notable commissions in the archive are the mosaic decorations for Cornell University's Sage Chapel in Ithaca, New York, ( Lamb no. 2491) and the stained glass windows for the Protestant and Catholic chapels of the U.S. Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina ( Lamb no. 449).
The Sketches: Summary and Scope
Styles and Subjects
The majority of the drawings and sketches are watercolor renderings for ecclesiastical window commissions. Many subjects appear repeatedly and the Lamb Studios developed its own system of codes to indicate the topics and types of designs. Examples include:
- "CC" for "Christ with Children"
- "JW" for "Jewish Window"
- "LR" for "Large Rose Window"
- "MO" for Mosaic.
The catalog records provide subject access terms based on the Lamb Studios vocabulary. For a full list of these topics, see the Subject Index.
The two predominant styles are a Medievalizing Gothic and a stylized twentieth century modern manner that favored its own diverse, synthesizing plays on traditional bright, European "Cathedral" or "Antique" glass clarity. The Gothic mode can be seen in Katharine Lamb Tait's "St. Mark" design for the St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C. (Lamb no. 286, below left). Typical of the modern mode is a work with a dynamic gridded background (Lamb no. 1407, below right).
Rare gems among the traditional Christian subjects are works depicted in special styles including:
- beatific idealism (Lamb nos. 1508, 1554, and 1555)
- extreme abstraction of the ethereal ( Lamb no. 2191)
- text-heavy narrative ( Lamb no. 46)
- Macintosh clarity of the symbolic Virgin Mary ( Lamb no. 261).
In many compositions the sophisticated and recurrent use of panes, lights, muntins, and mullions as organizing elements results in visual and even narrative play from pane to pane, or a parity of emphasis between the positive and negative space of the glass and the lead.
The firm was among the pioneers of the layered sandwich of painted and formed glass that came to characterize the "American" style in stained glass ( Lamb no. 1506). The Lamb Studios sometimes employed the opalescent effects for which other studios are better known, as in "Prince of Peace" ( Lamb no. 401), and others, wherein pastel shades predominate ( Lamb no. 1551). Such "soft" and indistinct effects are not characteristic of most of Lamb's twentieth century work, which featured the Gothic and stylized modern modes. Lamb artists also kept current, experimenting with the thick, bold post-World War II modern French trend known variously as "dalle de verre," faceted glass, and epoxy ( Lamb no. 1243).
Along with popular Biblical subjects, Lamb windows celebrated Christian leaders and American history. A window showing the first American Episcopal bishop, Samuel Seabury, includes an image of Jamestown, Virginia ( Lamb no. 295). Secular heroes appear alongside hosts of apostles and evangelists. Images of George Washington and other American founders abound, including at Valley Forge ( Lamb no. 666) and the signers of the Declaration of Independence ( Lamb no. 2475). Other secular subjects portray westward pioneers ( Lamb no. 1928) and humanitarians like Albert Schweitzer ( Lamb no. 351).
Historical women depicted include Queen Elizabeth I (Lamb no. 1865, below left) and female Confederate Captain Sally Tompkins (Lamb no. 224, below, right).
Church and Masonic symbols are illustrated with both general icons, as in the frequently used Christian symbol of the fish, and highly specific icons seen in The Seal of the Arch-Diocese of Tennessee ( Lamb no. 405).
Representations of intangible human conditions and aspirations range from love to racial harmony ( Lamb no. 872). Purely abstract compositions allow personal reflection while delighting the eye. Experiments in full-blown geometric abstraction appear frequently in commissions for synagogue windows ( Lamb no. 2038).
Some works are designed to suit the context in which they would appear and depict children for a school or a physician saint for a hospital. Educators are memorialized with images such as that of St. Anne teaching young Mary how to spin, St. Joseph teaching the youthful Christ carpentry, or the adult Christ sermonizing. Military commissions depict armored archangels, Colonial militia, and an extraordinary design showing the past and future of American servicemen, technology, and ideals ( Lamb no. 1505). The "Singing Window" in the chancel of the Tuskegee Institute's University Chapel contains quotations of lyrics from African-American Christian spirituals ( Lamb no. 610). A window for the institution that would become the Georgia Technological University (Georgia Tech) portrays scientific pursuits with the three branches of engineering paramount (Lamb no. 1608, at left).
The Newark Museum's Arts Education, Froelich Memorial Window of 1927, depicts drawing, painting, masonry, and printing, sculpture, and manual training (Lamb no. 1926, at right). Encircled by a Celtic knot border, it shows the combined influence of the Pre-Raphaelites and of the Brandywine Valley School of painting and popular American illustration of the period . Designed by Katharine Lamb Tait, the image perfectly suits its setting and origins by representing the museum's mission and embodying in both spirit and subject the original Arts and Crafts sensibility of the Lamb Studios design ethic.
The sketches typically are rendered in polychrome watercolor, graphite, and ink. Some are simply in monotone graphite, and more rarely in colored pencil or gouache. The Studios' display method often presents the drawings on black board mounts.
Attributing and Dating the Designs
Specific artist names and drawing dates are provided in the catalog records only when such information is on the drawings. Several factors make attributing and dating the works problematic. Not all compositions were realized as finished or installed commissions. The communal, Ruskinian ethos, particularly strong in the Studios during the 1800s, left most sketches unsigned.
In some cases, the address of the firm appears on a drawing, usually as a stamp or label. As the firm's address changed over time (see Operation of the Studios, above), address information may prove helpful in approximately dating works. But the vagaries of organizational name changes and labeling practices preclude precise dating from these clues. Many works bear multiple layered labels, for example.
The Notes fields in the records hold most of the information written on the backs of drawings, including the codes and stickers described above. The DGS Slide number refers to Dewey George Samick who made slides of the drawings for his son Donald Samick (Lamb, no. 2038). These slides stayed with the studio and did not come to the Libary of Congress.
Text by: Elizabeth Terry, Curatorial Assistant, March 2006. Revised by staff, June 2023.