A window serenade

Artist's stained glass makes church music building a 'visual ministry of praise'
April 9, 2007

A Canadian stained-glass artist's work in a new music building on the campus of a Scottsdale, Arizona, Episcopal church received in November 2006 a Stained Glass Award from Ministry and Liturgy magazine.

The 36 clerestory windows, each five feet wide and four feet high, encircle the recently opened Gwen Harris Music Building at the St. Barnabas-on-the-Desert campus. They were designed by artist Sarah Hall of Toronto and created at the Glasmalerei Peters studio in Germany, where Hall worked alongside six highly trained craftspeople.

Hall said it was challenging to create the art -- Desert Crossings, based on a series of sketches and photographs from the desert -- for that space because of the constant lighting. "I had north light, south light, west light and east light and a wonderfully changeable light within the building. Because I had all that light all day long, it became more of an artistic challenge."

With that full spectrum of light available, Hall chose warm gold and rose colors for the east and north windows and moved to greens and blues for the west and southwest. The backgrounds have more intense colors and have a rougher texture. "I've got a real rainbow of color in the building," she said.

Experiencing the desert
Nancy Harvey, a member of the artist search committee and a parishioner for 25 years, said she and her husband drove Hall over dirt roads through the desert in the spring of 2005 to see the plant life. "Because it had been a wet spring, Sarah saw vivid colors everywhere," she said.

The windows are the most significant visual addition since an 18-by-44-foot tapestry was designed and installed to cover the organ pipes at Easter 1964, said Harvey, who also chaired the committee overseeing the stained-glass creation.

"We took a risk in venturing out," she said. "I feel to the 'nth degree' that Sarah hit the mark in terms of freshness, appropriateness and inspiration. It is a visual ministry of praise, completely suitable to this location. The work was fresh and new and didn't copy what we already have."

Hall was one of three international artists among the 46 invited to submit a portfolio of work if the assignment interested them. The parish committee members were thorough in assessing the candidates, she said. "They had every question down from warranty to scaffolding and technical considerations to art. They looked at it intensively and knew what kind of questions to ask to ensure they would get a good process."

Hall has designed stained-glass windows for churches in Europe, Canada and the United States, including the Fifth Avenue window in New York's famous Marble Collegiate Church.

A different focus
The fact that this was a music building for choir rehearsals, concerts, quiet days and receptions made it different, she said. Her art needed to relate to music without using stereotypes, she explained. "They said they did not want cheesy musical notes, but something that expressed music and in a new way, something that expressed the environment."

So Hall, who required a year to design and produce the windows, included in the finished art reflective glass to imitate the cyclic motions of a conductor's baton, symbolizing the rhythmic measures of a musical composition.

"This is called dichroic glass, and its reflective blue and gold color is picked up in each of the windows," she said.

The music building now stands as a landmark, said Harvey, who said her church campus has no other stained glass. "I see it as a welcoming beacon, an invitation to the parish and the community at large to our church, a beacon to even unchurched people that would be seen as so beautiful that they could help but not stop."

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