Rowan LeCompte: Artist who taught himself a medieval craft and created windows that reflected both ancient and modern beliefs

Matt Schudel

At the age of 16, hoping to be an artist or architect, Rowan LeCompte approached the architect of Washington National Cathedral, Philip Hubert Frohman, with a design for a small chapel window. The design was approved on the spot, and LeCompte was paid $100. From that day, he devoted his life to stained glass, and to Washington National Cathedral in particular, designing more than 40 of its windows, including the west end rose window which the Washington Post hailed in 1976 as "one of the masterpieces of Christendom".

Rowan Keith LeCompte was born in Baltimore; his father was a baker, and early in his career, LeCompte fired glass designs in his oven. In the Army during the Second World War, he took part in the Normandy invasion and the liberation of Paris. There was no school at which to study a medieval art, so LeCompte learned alone, with occasional tutorials from other masters. Stained glass may have been an ancient art, but he was not simply trying to recreate a lost art, he said, and saw his windows as an expression of his time. As early as 1955, he wanted to have stained glass "assert itself as a great modern art". In one window he included small images of ballistic missiles as a protest against military proliferation. And in a depiction of the childhood of Jesus, he modelled the face of Joseph on his own.

LeCompte aimed for three qualities in every window: clarity, richness and sparkle. His first wife, Irene Matz, helped with some of his designs before her death in 1970.

When in 1972, he received the commission for the Washington rose window, he chose an abstract design, using coloured glass to refract light in all the hues of the spectrum. It took more than three years to complete the project. The cathedral's glass fabricator, Dieter Goldkuhle, who died in 2011, inserted more than 10,500 pieces of coloured glass in the window, which is 26 feet in diameter.

In 1990, construction of the cathedral was finally completed, after 83 years. But LeCompte kept going, creating new windows and replacing others. He designed his final window, yet to be installed, about four years ago. He seldom spoke of beliefs, except to say, "I believe in kindness and love, and there are those who say that those are God."

He recalled that when his rose window was unveiled, a young girl danced in the coloured light that poured onto the floor within the cathedral. When asked what she was doing, she said, "I'm dancing because I found the end of the rainbow."

© The Washington Post

Rowan LeCompte, stained glass designer: born Baltimore 17 March 1925; married Irene Matz (deceased); Peggy Money; died Waynesboro, Virginia 11 February 2014.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence