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 Wilbur Herbert Burnham  (1887 - 1974)

About: Wilbur Herbert Burnham


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Lived/Active: Massachusetts      Known for: stained glass windows-Gothic revival,

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Wilbur H. Burnham was born in Boston in 1887; he became a noted stained glass artist. He began work in 1904 and had his own studio by 1922 and devoted his professional efforts to designing windows to serve architecture.  He secured his first commission from Ralph Adams Cram, an influential American architect.  As an advocate of the medieval stained glass tradition, Burnham's philosophical compatibilities with those of  the enormously successful Cram led to commissions to provide windows for Cram's  churches in many of the major cities in North America.

Among Burhnam's most notable works are windows in the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul, Washington DC; the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and Riverside Church in New York City; Princeton University Chapel; and the American Church in Paris.

On tour with his family in Europe prior to the first World War, Burnham sketched famous stained glass windows in many cathedrals.  In a 1935 article in the journal Stained Glass, Burnham expresses his views about the importance of the medieval tradition in the harmony of the primary colors, red, blue, and yellow, with the complementary orange, green, and violet typical of his windows. His studies of medieval windows demonstrated that reds and blues should predominate and be in good balance. Burnham also noted that windows should maintain high luminosity under all light conditions.

Burnham's son, Wilbur Herbert Burnham, Jr. (1913?-1984), joined the studios in the  late 1930s.   His education began as a child on tour with his parents in Europe and formalized at Yale University, where he received a BFA. 

The Burnhams were awarded the Metal D'Argent at the Paris Exposition of 1937.  Each served as President of the Stained  Glass Association of America.  Burnham, Sr. was elected in 1939 and during World War  II lobbied in Washington to obtain supplies of lead and tin for stained glass artists instead of the cigarette industry, where considerable supplies were directed. 

Burnham, Jr. served during 1959-1961.  Because of failing health, the younger Burnham put the studio up for sale in 1982.  When the studio closed, the Smithsonian Institution designated it as one of the four major studios (along with the Charles J. Connick Associates, Nicola D'Ascenzo, and Reynolds, Francis, and Rohnstock Studios) most deserving of having their works preserved.  Today, the studio’s records are in the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.



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