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
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
Life and Style
food + drink
Voices
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959
voicesWard committed no crime, and the truth is still being covered up, writes Geoffrey Robertson QC
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
news... you won't believe how bad their skills were
News
people

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright and Mark Wright
tvStrictly goes head-to-head with Apprentice
Sport
footballPremier League preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's clashes
News
i100
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

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas