John Joseph Earley (1881-1945)

John Joseph Earley was an artist, an artisan, a sometime architect, and above all, a master of concrete. Born in New York, he was the son of an Irish immigrant, James Earley, who worked as a stonecutter before moving to Washington, D.C., where he designed, among other things, the buffalo nickel for the United States Mint. James Earley established a studio and stonecutting workshop in Foggy Bottom that John took over in 1906. Young Earley and his business partner and mentor, Basil Gordon Taylor, gradually transformed the studio into a successful business. Although Earley’s artistic foundation was in the medieval crafts guild tradition, he chose for his life’s work the very modern medium of concrete. Earley was actively involved in technological innovation, and the Earley Studio helped the Federal Bureau of Standards find ways to enhance the strength and durability of stucco and concrete; Earley also patented a number of production methods and processes.

Earley is best known for the invention of the so-called Earley Process, an innovation that he called “architectural,” “polychrome” or “mosaic” concrete. Traditional concrete involves mixing small stones (aggregate) with cement and water together to form the body of the concrete. The Earley Process employed colored stones as the aggregate which were then exposed by scraping away a layer of cement with wire brushes. Earley was heavily influenced by the color theories of Chevreul and Rood, the same theories that underlay the techniques of the painters associated with the Impressionist and Pointillist movements. These color theories demonstrated that when contrasting colors (red, yellow, blue) are placed next to each other, they blend optically to comprise hues of even values. Earley believed that the clarity of color and surface texture found in Impressionist and Pointillist paintings could be found in concrete. He later observed that “by considering the particles of aggregate as spots of color in juxtaposition, all the knowledge and much of the technique of the Impressionist or the Pointillist school of painting, was immediately applicable to concrete….”

Prior to the work Earley undertook for the Monastery beginning in the mid-1920s, Earley Studio was extremely active in the Washington, D.C., area. Between 1912 and 1936, Earley constructed the walls, stairs and balustrades of Meridian Hill Park. The aggregate employed in the polychromed concrete were earth-toned stones dredged from the Potomac River. He also constructed the nave and aisles of the Shrine of the Sacred Heart, completed in 1923, work which was highlighted in the publication, “Substance, Form, and Color Through Concrete,” published by the Portland Cement Company. For this project, he expanded his palette to include glass, ceramics and other stones, providing the foundation for the work he would later undertake at the Monastery. Earley was also responsible for panels at the Walker Building on 15th Street NW, ceilings for the Justice Department, ceilings and walkways at Dulles Airport, and five Polychrome Houses in Silver Spring. In Chicago, he worked with Lorado Taft on the Fountain of Time (1922) in Hyde Park, and in Wilmette, Ill., his Baha’i Temple, completed posthumously in 1953, sparkles in the sun. Click here to read about Earley Studio’s work at Mount St. Sepulchre.

Click here to read about Earley Studio’s work at Mt. St. Sepulchre. (format this page like the current page:

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