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And then the heaven espy

09 November 2012

Katy Hounsell-Robert sees an exhibition by several artists in glass


Faithful to St Paul: Alex Hoare's Through A Glass Darkly: A triptych in kilnformed glass

Faithful to St Paul: Alex Hoare's Through A Glass Darkly: A triptych in kilnformed glass

FORMERLY Salisbury and Wells Theological College, until 1994, Sarum College, a fine Grade I listed building, with its front attributed to Wren, its 19th-century chapel, library, and magnificent view of Salisbury Cathedral, is now an independent centre for Christian study and research. It offers space and time for the nourishing of the human spirit, and the arts play an important part in this vision.

It has recently begun to host important artists' work, open to the public free of charge, and each lasting more than two months, as well as exhibitions by local schools and art societies in between.

The current exhibition of glass sculpture and stained glass, "Through a Glass Darkly", is, of course, inspired by St Paul's much quoted letter to the Corinthians. But the brief is also taken from George Herbert's poem "The Elixir". Herbert was parish priest at Bemerton, Salisbury, from 1630 to 1633.

A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heaven espy.

The seven artists, all masters in the field of glass art and ecclesiastical art, have presented not only an enormous variety of colours, shapes, and designs, but a diversity of philosophical attitudes to expressing faith and hope in the ultimate light.

At Sarum College, it is believed that art should not be isolated in a sterile gallery, but should surround people in their daily life; and so the pieces are placed in the communal areas, and a simple free catalogue gives a clear plan of where the numbered works are to be found.

After seeing the famous stained-glass windows of Chartres Cathedral, Greg Tricker was inspired to work in this medium as well as paint and sculpture. His work concerns people who have tried to bring truth and light to the world. At the far end of the refectory, the sunlight falls on a stained-glass piece, using medieval imagery, of Joseph of Arimathaea with a group of people, including Mary Magdalene, packed into a little boat coming by sea to England and to Glastonbury, guided by an angel.

There is also an iconic St Clare of Assisi, with large soulful eyes and head-covering of deep emerald green. The artist's Magdalene, also with large soulful eyes and red head-covering, hangs in the corridor window by the chapel; so the Benedictine monks attached to the College, and others, can enjoy it on their way to and from services.

On the huge glass window looking into the refectory, where people stand outside talking, hang Nicola Hopwood's three stained-glass narrative pieces using hand-blown coloured glass, predominantly rich red and blue, of Thomas's doubt that Christ would be resurrected, of the ascension, and of the reassuring golden shaft of the Holy Spirit descending among the apostles, represented in deep red and blue.

Alex Hoare works with light, sound, and theatre design. Her table-top amber-tinged triptych in kilnformed glass illustrates the text from St Paul faithfully. The left glass panel shows the large innocent face of a child; the centre panel is covered in fine cracks; and the right is clear. Each panel is made of double glass walls shaped like a stage or filmic cyclorama, allowing back lighting or front projection for greater effect.

Sally Pollitzer's shoulder-high movable The Green Screen in acid-etched Danziger striated glass in lead with aluminium frame, placed on the first floor overlooking the garden, partly reproaches us that we do not always see the beauty of God in nature, because we are not looking.

Between the green panels, she has etched umbels and cow parsley, as well as the lily and rose of Mary, and the crown of thorns of Christ. She chose glass because, she says, "it holds the possibility of illuminating and reflecting the love of God."

By coincidence, Tracey Sheppard had just finished and installed an engraved glass screen for St Lawrence's, Winchester, inspired by the Herbert poem, when she was invited to take part. On the wall of the common room hang a print of the huge completed design and a full-size working cartoon. She has engraved the words of the first verse to be read going into the church, and the third coming out.

Daisies, representing the innocence of the Christ-child; dandelions (bitter herbs), a symbol of the Passion; bees, the embodiment of diligence and good order; and butterflies and dragonflies, representing the resurrection, are all engraved on this screen.

The next best thing to seeing Tom Denny's transfiguration window in Durham Cathedral is seeing the original cartoon, with its incredible details. It hangs in the hallway near the bookshop, together with other designs intended for Tewkesbury Abbey, Malvern Priory, Sunderland Minster, and St Margaret's, Millington. The window was dedicated to the late Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Ramsey, who returned in retirement to Durham, where he had been the Bishop.

Denny is fond of silver staining, using silver nitrate, to produce a range of amber tones; but he also uses deep blues and purples that flow across the lead in primeval shapes. A pale-blue figure of Christ is seen on the cross in a shaft of blue light in the apex, and the space is filled with stories from the Bible with the characters in timeless garments: the transfiguration with the apostles watching; Christ healing the boy with epilepsy; and a group of modern pilgrims coming to Durham, among whom is Lord Ramsey.

Glass reflects, refracts, and transmits light. Sally Fawkes has brought together all that modern glass technology has to offer with her concept and sculpture Face to Face. The solid piece is in the shape of an avocado pear cut open with a space where the nut or seed of life is absent. Though it seems hollow, there is a solid transparent window through which one sees a myriad of replicated shapes like pebbles of light. Her feeling about the process of moving from childhood understanding, through adult confusion, to, it is hoped, knowing reality is: "Our past can only be experi-enced through our senses and what we take the time to know. Reflecting on what has passed is integral to knowing."

The exhibition runs at Sarum College, 19 The Close, Salisbury, until 3 December. Phone 01722 424800.



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