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Art Around Campus: Beatitudes

Elizabeth Bradbury Elliott Sanctuary Window ‘Beatitudes,’ Stained Glass, 2003. Designed by Nancy Rebal for Foster Stained Glass. Displayed in All Saints Chapel.  

The Art Around Campus Committee has been working with artist Nancy Rebal to collect and document the creation stories behind our chapel windows and her experience designing them. Nancy now runs a nonprofit, the 'Corsicana Artist and Writer Residency' in Corsicana, Texas. Here’s what Nancy had to say about the two windows: 

“The Beatitudes are the lessons given by Jesus to the crowd in the Sermon on the Mount, describing the behaviors that he calls for people to embody. Each of these begins with the word beati- which can mean 'happy,' 'rich,' or 'blessed.' Some of these are external actions, which are easily illustrated, but some are about internal states of being and were quite a challenge to depict in a window. Father Swann and I had long discussions about how he wanted to convey the message of each Beatitude in light of the students’ own lives and based on common sense.” 

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

“The first of the Beatitudes was one of the most difficult to illustrate. It is easy to misunderstand because the word ‘poor’ at first seems to imply a lack, being without something necessary. We illustrated it as an ability to be quiet, contemplative; so open to, and able to understand the small subtle wisdom that is available to the receptive mind. It is the opposite of being so full of pride and self-interest to only be willing to hear yourself.”  

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

“This is a very special window. The 9/11 World Trade Tower attack was very recent history. Where the towers had fallen, two gigantic searchlights shone straight up into the atmosphere. The fences around the very old St. Paul’s Chapel near Ground Zero were still covered with flowers, teddy bears, poems, and pictures of missing loved ones. Candles still burn there. This window was the first permanent memorial in the DFW area commemorating the tragedy. As the world mourned, solidarity among the Abrahamic religions was paramount for healing.”

Here’s a little of what Nancy had to say about the project as a whole.

“Designing the stained glass window program for the All Saints Chapel at ESD with Foster Stained Glass was a wonderful project. The building itself is a contemporary homage to the Gothic cathedral and its soaring verticality. Instead of the flying buttresses that stabilized the tall walls in the past, here is a brilliant update employing the Tensegrity system conceived by Buckminster Fuller. The Tensegrity structure lends support by pulling on the inside, while the flying buttresses did so by pushing on the walls from the outside.

We worked closely with Father Swann in conceiving the program for the windows. He insisted that he wanted these windows to reflect traditional programs but be clearly meant to speak to the students about themselves. Father Swann wanted children to see themselves reflected in these images, not a bunch of old men with beards, as he put it.”  

The Art Around Campus Committee looks forward to sharing more of Nancy's reflections and insights with you over the coming months.