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Historical Perspectives: Katharine Lamb Tait, 1895–1981

Historical Perspectives: Katharine Lamb Tait, 1895–1981

Katharine Lamb Tait working on a stained glass window

Katharine Lamb Tait was born on June 3, 1895 in Alpine, New Jersey. Katharine’s father who was architect and designer, Charles Rollinson Lamb, was also president of Lamb Studios and the Stained Glass Association of America.7 Her mother, Ella Condie Lamb was an artist.1

In 1912, Tait graduated from the Quaker School Friends Seminary High School in New York City. She was a student at the Art Students League of New York and studied design at Columbia College, the National Academy of Design, and the Cooper Union Art School, where from 1922 through1926 she also taught design.2

Tait joined Lamb Studios as a designer in 1921, designing stained glass windows and mosaics1 as well as other ecclesiastical art such as brass altar crosses, candlesticks, %%stone%% lettering and woodwork for choir stalls and pulpits.3 Tait’s father, who was president of Lamb Studios during this time, had an influential role in her life, and later on she would describe him as her “best teacher”.2

Traveling to Paris, Tait spent a summer studying painting at Académie Colarossi. Around this time, in the early 1920’s, she also traveled to England and Italy. Her visits to the grand cathedrals of Europe, where she saw medieval stained glass for the first time, left a lasting impression on her and played a pivotal role in her career choice. She was captivated by the stained glass, and upon her return home she began creating windows of a similar style for Lamb Studios in New York.2 Tait’s career choice and artistic creativity would most likely have favored well with her family and ancestors.

The Beginnings of Lamb Studios

The Nativity and The carpenter's son stained glass cartoons, designed by Katharine Lamb Tait

Lamb Studios, the oldest continuously operating American stained glass studio, was founded in 1857 in New York City.1 The founders of the company were Joseph (1833–1898) and Richard Lamb (1832–1909), brothers who were both born in Lewisham, Kent, England. Their credo was “Art, not merely for art’s sake, but art as an aid to religion”.5 Katharine Tait was the granddaughter of Joseph Lamb.5

Tait’s uncle, Frederick Stymetz Lamb (1863–1928), was an artist and stained glass designer and a leading figure of stained glass design at Lamb Studios. He designed approximately 2,000 windows, lectured and wrote widely.6 At the 1900 International Art Exposition in Paris, he won a gold medal for his design “Religion Enthroned”.5 Lamb Studios also received a gold medal.5

Karl Barre Lamb (1890–1969), Tait’s older brother, joined Lamb Studios in 1923 and succeeded Charles Lamb as head of the Studios from 1932 until his death in 1969.5 He also served as president of the %%Stained Glass%% Association of America from1954 through 1956.4

Katharine Tait’s role at Lamb Studios took on an important change in the 1920s. She married businessman, Trevor S. Tait in November 1925. They had four children—Barrie, Robin, Colin and Kevin—and she withdrew from full-time work to devote more time to raising her family.2 She continued to design whenever she could, however, working on sketches for windows from home. It was during this time in 1932 that she undertook a design at the Tuskegee Institute Chapel in Alabama known as the “Singing window.” It was one of her favorites and one of her major commissions that illustrated spirituals.2 Tait did not return to full-time work until around 1937. She was head designer of Lamb Studios from 1936 through 1979.1

In 1935, under Karl Lamb, Lamb Studios moved from New York City to Tenafly, New Jersey. The studio focused on stained glass and gradually closed down all other shops such as metal, %%stone%% and wood. This move helped the studio survive the Great Depression. Sometime around 1938, the Tait family also moved to Tenafly.2

Postwar Commissions

Immortality of the Soul, of the Intellect, designed by Katherine Lamb Tait

In 1945, after World War II, some of Tait’s sketches won a contest. The prize was a commission for Lamb Studios to work on the windows of the Protestant and Catholic Chapels at the United States Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune near Jacksonville, North Carolina. This project occupied Tait for nearly two years.2 It was her largest single commission and a significant artistic achievement. Interestingly, all of the designs for the Lejeune chapels were accepted by the Corps. The commission includes strong archangels, militant saints and battles. It was only after securing the commission that Lamb Studios revealed that a woman was behind the designs.8

Letters from Tait’s archive in the Rakow Research Library reveal the praise and admiration that this commission received. In a letter to Tait, General R.H. Barrow, United States Marine Corps Commandant said “Your beautiful stained glass windows are especially meaningful to me. I can think of no place where our Marines have been so magnificently memorialized.”9 In another letter to Tait from Major General D. B. Barker, United States Marine Corps Commanding General, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune says “You have provided a source of continuing inspiration for generations of Marines in your incomparable creation of these windows. May your joy be full in the realization of such great contribution to the worship, culture, and heritage of our service people.”9

Christ the healer, designed by Katharine Lamb Tait

Tait completed other major commissions throughout the United States. These included mosaics for The Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, New York City; all the windows at The Old Mariners Church, Detroit, Michigan; all the chapel windows of the Presbyterian Church, Tenafly, New Jersey; the mosaic chancel cross at the Canaan Baptist Church, Washington, DC.; and 24 windows at The All Saints Episcopal Church, Birmingham, Alabama. In addition, she was responsible for designing all the windows at The Church of the Advent, Kenmore, New York; all the nave windows at the First Baptist Church, Richmond, Virginia; a stained glass memorial window at The Newark Museum, Newark, New Jersey; and a mosaic chancel cross at The first Presbyterian Church, Watertown, New York.1

Throughout her career, Tait designed more than 1,000 commissions. She had a diverse range of artistic styles and was influenced by other artists, designing abstract windows in her later years. She felt that stained glass windows should be in harmony with their surrounding architecture. This is demonstrated in her work for the windows of the First Baptist church in Richmond, Virginia where she used Art Deco scenes and ancient Greek decorative borders to complement the church’s architectural style.2

The Tait Archives

Stained glass cartoon of Jesus with two children, designed by Katharine Lamb Tait

When researching her archive and learning more about Katharine Tait, it is obvious that she loved nature and the world around her. Some of her work was most likely influenced by this. She was a hiker who enjoyed hiking in the Palisades, the Hudson Highlands, and the Adirondack mountains. She was a beekeeper, and a conservationist, and was active in protecting the Palisades. Her memberships included The stained Glass Association of America, The National Society of Mural Painters, The Palisades Nature Association, The National Wildlife Federation, and The Adirondack Mountain Club as well as The North Jersey Beekeepers’ Association, Inc.9

Stained glass cartoon of Jesus with men with fishing nets, designed by Katharine Lamb Tait

Tait led a fulfilled life, and was passionate about her career while raising her family and pursuing other interests that were dear to her. Her ability to balance the demands of work and family while achieving so much professionally is admirable. She was a gifted stained glass designer and painter—a prolific artist, with a designing career that spanned 60 years from 1920, to her retirement in 1979. She was the last active Lamb family member to work at Lamb Studios4 and died two years after her retirement at age 86 in Cresskill, New Jersey.1 Lamb Studios continues today, located in Wyckoff, New Jersey, under the leadership and ownership of Donald Samick.

The Juliette K. and Leonard S. Rakow Research Library at The Corning Museum of Glass holds the Katharine Lamb Tait archive donated to the Library by Tait’s four children. The archive includes; Tait’s research files; her commission records and more than 350 photographs of commissions by Lamb Studios including some by Tait. There you will also find her business-cards, memberships and certificates; and seven elaborately hand-embroidered blouses that belonged to Tait that were acquired between 1920 and 1950, mostly from central Europe.

The materials housed in the Tait archive reveal details of her life and work and unravels her thought process as well as the achievements of a dedicated artist and designer in stained glass. Her archive will assist researchers of American stained glass studios and female stained glass designers for many years to come.


Nive Chatterjee
This article originally appeared in the Jan/Feb 2013 issue of Glass Art and is reproduced here with the publication's permission.


References

1Barrie Tait Collins, “Katharine Lamb Tait: A Brief Biography”, Katharine Lamb Tait archive, Juliette K. and Leonard S. Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass 2004.

2David Adams, “The Last Stained Glass Lamb: Katharine Lamb Tait 1895-1981,” Stained Glass Quarterly of the Stained Glass Association of America” 77, no. 1 (Spring 1982):

3“Katharine Lamb Tait, Designed Stained Glass”, The New York Times, Katharine Lamb Tait archive, Juliette K. and Leonard S. Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass.

4David Adams and Donald Samick, “The J. and R. Lamb Studios: The Second 75 Years: 1932-2007”, Stained Glass Quarterly of the Stained Glass Association of America 102, no.3 (Fall 2007).

5Donald Samick, “J. and R. Lamb Studios”, The Journal of Stained Glass 34 (2010).

6David Adams, “J. and R. Lamb Studios: The First 75 Years, 1857-1932”, Stained Glass Quarterly of the Stained Glass Association of America 102, no.2 (Summer 2007).

7Barrie Tait Collins, “Frederick Stymetz Lamb”, Katharine Lamb Tait archive, Juliette K. and Leonard S. Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass 1995.

8Barrie Tait Collins, “The Archangels of Lejeune”, Stained Glass Quarterly of the Stained Glass Association of America 103, no. 3 (Fall 2008).

9Katharine Lamb Tait archive, Juliette K. and Leonard S. Rakow Research Library of The Corning Museum of Glass.

Published on October 8, 2012