I am haunted by the lonely beauty of a piece of glass. For many years I have come back to this image of the women at the tomb of the risen Christ to wonder about the hands of who may have created such rare beauty. I came across the picture again recently when I was putting together a string of images for a presentation to a group of local architects. What was surprising was that the image was in the file waiting for me to rediscover for I thought it was lost. Memory plays tricks on us especially when we have been around long enough to develop a few of them. For years the thought plagued me that I needed to go back to the church in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and photograph this piece of glass so I could study it again. But here it was stacked up digitally recumbent in a tiny yellow folder just a few nervous clicks away from my consciousness.
As I lay quietly in my bed writing this text, the sound of the sweet olive branch against the window pane keeps me from drifting off to sleep. Where I live the house shudders from time to time, I know this because the slightly loose light bulb in my reading lamp sets up a thin rattling whine when a wave of vibration reaches the end of the house where I am resting in repose. Somehow I believe that by focusing on one small element that larger truths can be revealed. By looking at the seemingly mundane smallness of a single piece of glass some truth can be brought to bear on the existential questions of happiness and redemption.
What is so intriguing about this image is the number of questions that it raises when the time is taken to contemplate what it is saying to us. Why are the women looking off to the right, outside of the picture plane when the image of the risen Christ is to the left? Could a painting of such pathos been created by a man? It seems such a feminine take on the emotional complexity of the moment. Can one tell by looking at a work of art if it was painted by a woman or a man?
Behind the women and above the glass painter left a seemingly random pattern of black paint that conjures many possible interpretations. Is it rain? Forms of mountains in dim fog light? I believe that these suggestions create an openness allowing a free interpretation of the image. Is this a type of perfection? Perfection defined by the Taoist diarist Lao Tze that one can see beauty as beauty only because there is ugliness?
Many years ago, at the advice of a friend, I sought out an exhibition of etchings by the German artist Kathe Kollwitz. The glass painting image of the women at the well reminds me of Kollwitz graphic work. As an artist she created images with great pathos and as a woman her portrayal of the emotions and plight of women are hauntingly beautiful.
In a future post I will report on my trip back to the church in Vicksburg to see this piece of painted glass again. Kollwitz shows us that women have insight into events that create emotional gravity. The artist that painted image of the women at the tomb has shown us that great art is possible even in the most unheralded of places.