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Stained glass panel by Sister Mary AnnTherese Kelly.
Painting by Antun Kojtom Lam.

Stained glass by Sister Mary Ann Therese Kelly at Casa de Arte

The medieval-origin art of making stained glass windows is illustrated by artifacts in an exhibit of the works of Sister Mary Ann Therese Kelly at Casa de Arte on Elmwood near Allen.

The exhibit centerpiece is a roughly three-feet-by-18-inches leaded stained glass preliminary stage model of a roughly five-feet-by-10-feet skylight on a St. Francis of Assisi theme, now installed in a chapel at Felician College, Rutherford, New Jersey.

Other works include color photos of some of her other stained glass installations, more preliminary stage works in the stained glass production process—conceptual drawings and paintings and trial product segments of a whole—and other pieces in glass and other media, including some small-scale, non-figural design, colored glass and sandblast-etched clear glass items, and wide variety of non-glass artwork in various media and media combinations, including etchings, lithographs, serigraphs, and collage.

Among the photos of stained glass installations are a series of six chevron-form windows presently in the St. Gabriel’s church, Elma, New York, and a huge-scale, great swirls of ordered turbulence, nature on Earth and in the Cosmos representation from a chapel in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania.

The artist said the only difference in technique between the way she makes stained glass and the way they made it in the Middle Ages is her use of electrical kilns, allowing and facilitating multiple fusions of the glass, and thus sequential overlays of different colors and the fusion together of different glass segments.

The Felician College skylight consists of images related to the particular mission of the nuns at the college, around a central medallion representation of St. Francis, all surrounded by images related to St. Francis’s prayer poem entitled alternately “Canticle of the Sun” or “Canticle of the Creatures,” enumerating various major phenomena of creation—basically, natural phenomena—and for each one in turn thanking and praising the creator, starting with Brother Sun and Sister Moon, concluding with the capstone natural phenomenon and poetic image—and which transforms St. Francis’ poem from a great poem to a magnificent poem—Sister Death. The poem was written in the early 13th century. Due to modern era squeamishness about, well, reality, when treating of the poem, the Sister Death part is sometimes omitted or downplayed. And indeed, the death part is hard to see among the skylight border imagery, but could be read into one or two obscure darkness areas.

Overall, particularly in her stained glass work, much of Sister Mary Ann Therese’s imagery seems indebted to the St. Francis poem. The Beaver Falls piece is called “Canticle of the Sun.” The cosmic swirls recalling the act of creation, work of the creator.

But neither is St. Francis the only connection to the poetic production of the Middle Ages. Other works among the non-glass art are based on or make substantial reference to the poetry of Dante, from a century after St. Francis, and Hildegard von Bingen, nun of many parts, from a century before. But visionaries all.

The Sister Mary Ann Therese works are the main event in an exhibit called Illuminations: Art and Spirituality. The other featured artist in the show is Antun Kojtom Lam, an ethnic Tzeltal Mayan, whose works include paintings and woodcuts on Mayan/Mexican folklore characters and themes. Shamanist figures, possibly, including several incarnations of a Jaguar character (Jaguar de Noche, Danzante Jaguar, Casa de Jaguar), and one apparent dream figure (Mariposa Nocturna).

Tzeltal designates one of the largest Mayan descendant subgroups. The Tzeltal religion is a syncretism of Catholic and indigenous Mayan elements.

The Illuminations exhibit continues through September 30. A conference on art and spirituality is scheduled for September 9, beginning at 6pm, at the Casa de Arte. Both featured artists will talk. Antun Kojtom Lam’s talk is entitled “Spiritual Life of the Tzeltal Mayans.” Sister Mary Ann Therese’s talk is entitled “Evolution and Process: Architectural Stained Glass and ‘The Canticle of the Sun’ of St. Francis of Assisi.” (Antun Kojtom Lam’s talk will be in Spanish, simultaneously translated by Casa de Arte co-director Mara Odette.)

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