Lumia, the Art of Light

Associate Louise Bane, visiting in New York, has sent us two items on the mobile color work of Thomas Wilfred, inventor of the "Clavilux".


"A completely new art form, called Lumia, has been created for the reception room of Clairol's New York offices, 666 Fifth Avenue, by Mr. Thomas Wilfred. Moving colors are projected on a 10-foot screen to give the illusion of an abstract painting being created in space, as the tints and shapes swirl through a pre-determined series of patterns. The vivid colors, slowly moving across and through the screen in combination with more delicate hues, create an unusual visual experience which may be watched for seconds, minutes or hours. The procession of color constellations is set to run for one year, 34 weeks, 22 hours and 10 minutes, and then start all over again, and exactly repeat the composition.

"The 'light mobile' is called Study In Depth, Opus 152. Mr. Wilfred previously Created 151 compositions. These other works are in the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum and many in private collections. The Clairol Lumia composition is the largest, will run the longest, and is the first in an office."


A recorded Lumia composition, 1955, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Julius Stulman to The Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd St., New York 19, N.Y.

"Lumia, the art of light, was developed by Thomas Wilfred who experimented for many years during the first quarter of a century. In 1921 he completed his 'clavilux', an instrument consisting of a number of powerful projectors with an organ-like keyboard controlling the form, color, and motion projected on a large white screen. In 1922, in New York, Wilfred performed his first lumia recital on the clavilux, and for 20 years thereafter he gave clavilux recitals throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe. In 1930 he founded the Art Institute of Light for the study and further development of this new medium. The institute maintained laboratories and a recital hall in New York until the war years.

"Thomas Wilfred continues his work in lumia, creating new compositions and recording them for automatic repetition in instruments such as 'Aspiration' as shown at the Museum of Modern Art. The artist describes this work as a theme with 397 variations. The form and color cycles are of different duration. Thus, every time the form cycle repeats, it does so with a different color treatment -- a near-coincidence every two hours and 32 minutes. The entire composition has a duration of 42 hours, 14 minutes, 11 seconds.

"Of Lumia, the art of light, Mr. Wilfred says:


"'Man has built with stone, carved with marble, painted with ground pigments, plucked strings, blown through reeds, sung, danced, written and spoken: Thus our seven fine arts have grown along with our civilization. Their tools and media were both simple and close at hand. One medium, however, defied man's harnessing attempts: Light, the greatest natural force our senses can grasp, the source and maintainer of all life and growth.

'But with the advent of electricity a way opened up, and now a great new epic begins in aesthetics. An eighth major art form has been born to join the accepted seven, the art of light. It has been named Lumia. Here light is the artist's sole medium of expression. He must mold it by optical means, almost as a sculptor models in clay. He must add color and finally motion to his creation.

'Motion, the time dimension, demands that he must be a choreographer in-space, a dancer-by-proxy whose body is weightless and may assume any desired shape. This he accomplishes by manipulating sliding form, color, and motion keys on the organ-like console of a clavilux instrument. A special notation system is used. The keys actuate optical combinations in a battery of powerful projections, the result showing on a large white screen.

'The lumia composer may also record his works for automatic repetition in self-contained cabinets resembling television sets. The artists's aim is to transform the screen into a large window looking out on infinite space, an imaginary stage of astronomical dimensions, and to perform on this stage a silent visual music of form, color and motion.'

"Further information can be-obtained from Thomas Wilfred at West Nyack, New York."

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Associate Rose Hiett sends us a Dallas, Texas news clip telling of how Radio Station WFAA converted its broadcast into moving color in April. "An electronic process which transforms musical notes into impulses of changing colors made its bow in Wynnewood Village. The new process, developed by Mobilcolor, Inc., of New York, is controlled from an electronic console. Musical notes and loudness of music dictates to the console impulses which are sent to lights focused on a giant screen. Dallas' first demonstration of this type will be located in Wynnewood near Volks each evening through Easter."

Associate Dave Pickett reports that the May issue of "Electronics World" has an excellent article on color mechanics, organ, etc. And for your reference file on color try to get hold of a copy of Francis Bello's fascinating article on the color researches of Dr. Edwin Land of Polaroid Camera, "An Astonishing New Theory of Color", in Fortune Magazine for May 1959. Dr. Land's work has smashed Isaac Newton's basic color theories all to smithereens.

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  1. Wortman, Leon A. "Photorhythmicon - Dancing Lights." Radio & TV News, August 1958, pp. 50-51, 92.
  2. Wortman, Leon A. "Transistorized Photorhythmicon." Electronics World, May 1962, pp. 49-51.
  3. Bello, Francis. "An Astonishing New Theory of Color." Fortune Magazine, May 1959, pp. 144-206.