This blog post was written by Student Assistant Morgan Ballard. Morgan is a Senior Anthropology major in her second year at The Texas Collection. She assisted processing the L. L. Sams Stained Glass Studio records.
The words “stained glass” typically elicit the image of large, brightly colored, religious depictions in a church or temple sanctuary. However, these religious buildings are not the only places one can find such pieces of immaculate glass work. Stained glass companies have worked on both religious and secular themed glass for many years. A good example of this versatility is the work done by L.L. Sams Stained Glass Studio. The Studio operated as a division of the L. L. Sams Company in Waco, Texas, from 1952 until its closing in 1992. The studio produced many pieces for numerous churches as well as secular and semi-religious places that stained glass might not be expected.
In the 1960s secular stained glass became more popular in America. During this time, restaurants began commissioning glass signs and decorative pieces which included restaurant names, still life scenes, and other abstract designs. The L. L. Sams collection holds items from two restaurants, Oliver’s in Odessa, Texas, and Mac’s Driveteria in Abilene, Texas. In addition to businesses, there was also a rise in residential stained glass. These windows were very diverse in style and included designs ranging from abstract patterns to heavily detailed scenery. For example, two residential commissions in the L.L. Sams collection are for a, relatively large, nature scene and an abstract design respectively. Although the trend of residential stained glass has declined in recent years you can still find many houses where it was installed in use today. Surprisingly, institutions such as public schools have commissioned pieces. La Vega High School in Bellmead, Texas, is a good example as they have a large window of the school’s pirate mascot that was commissioned in 1984.
Some places, although secular in nature, occasionally have religious themes and areas associated with them. Hospitals, specifically in this collection, had the second most commissions behind churches. Most of the pieces were commissioned for the chapel, or another religious area, of the hospital in which they reside. While most of the pieces for these hospitals have religious themes, there are also many abstract pieces made in conjunction with them. A few of the hospitals in the L.L. Sams collection include Coryell Memorial Hospital in Gatesville, Texas, and Graham General Hospital in Graham, Texas. Mausoleums also account for a good portion of commissions to L.L. Sams. For example, Restland Mausoleum in Dallas, Texas, placed many commissions for both religious and abstract pieces. Military bases including Bergstrom Air Force Base, Lackland Air Force Base, and Fort Hood also commissioned pieces. The most impressive of these are from Fort Hood and reside in the main chapel on base. These windows have religious symbols and figures, such as crosses and Jesus, alongside images of soldiers and other military emblems. All these pieces are large and finely detailed, taking up most of each wall they reside on.
Universities and Colleges have also commissioned stained glass. Baylor University, although a Christian school, has primarily commissioned secular stained glass. The largest collection on campus, and possibly in the world, is in the Armstrong Browning Library with a total of 62 windows. Most of the windows depict poems by Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Only one window, the “Cleon”, was made by L.L. Sams. This piece is housed in one of the third-floor offices and, unfortunately, is not open to the public. It can, however, be seen via the Armstrong Browning Library website (https://www.baylor.edu/browninglibrary/index.php?id=942971). This window centers around the poem “Cleon” by Robert Browning and depicts the columns of Baylor’s first campus at Independence, Texas, along with state specific imagery such as mockingbirds, yellow roses, and red honeysuckle. L. L. Sams also created pieces for Burleson Hall, Old Main, and Bennett Auditorium. These pieces, which commemorate past Baylor presidents, can be found above the doorways of each building’s exterior doors. These simply patterned windows contain the name of the president it is honoring and the dates which they served at Baylor.
Although L.L. Sams Stained Glass Studio is no more, and in its place stands an apartment complex of the same name, their work still stands in many places. The commissions mentioned above are only a small fraction of the work they completed. Many more concept pieces and documents are housed in The Texas Collection archives.
“History of Stained Glass.” The Stained Glass Association of America. Accessed October 08, 2020. https://stainedglass.org/resources/history-of-stained-glass/.