Remembered Light

Shattered Glass at ARG

WHAT: “Remembered Light: Destruction and Resurrection, Glass Fragments from World War II,” a free exhibit at the Arthur Ross Gallery, 220 S. 34th St., between Walnut and Spruce streets, in the Fisher Fine Arts Library.

WHEN: March 28 through June 15, 2008.

SHATTERED: During the Second World War, Frederick Alexander McDonald, who passed away in 2002, served as a chaplain in the United States Army. Through his travels across war-torn Europe, he was saddened by the destruction of holy structures and began collecting pieces of shattered glass. “There was glass everywhere and I picked up quite a number of these broken pieces that were deeply smoked by the explosion of the bombs,” McDonald explains in a video introduction at the exhibit. “I put them away and then mailed them home. The shards represented something deep that you ought to remember about this. It’s so often a little thing that can bring back a flood of memories into your head.”

INTERPRETATIONS: Thirteen artists, including Armelle Le Roux, Joseph Distefanco and Misty Gamble, created artwork from McDonald’s relics for the exhibit.

ROOTS OF EVIL: McDonald traveled to Europe in 1933, only months after Hitler assumed power. At first sympathetic to the Nazi movement because of the spirit it gave to the German people, he reconsidered after returning to the U.S. and hearing stories of the Nazis’ ill treatment of “certain elements. It was beyond any question necessary to eliminate Hitlerism and all that it stood for,” McDonald says.

BLESSED IS HE: Artist Narcissus Quagliata’s work, “Cathedral of St. Stephen” (above, top) uses pieces of glass from the Cathedral of St. Stephen in Metz, France. “War can destroy the glass, but not the light,” says McDonald. “When I had these ancient shards—the remnants of bombed-out windows­ in my hands—they felt to me like thorns. So I took 33 shards and reconfigured them in this crown-like image as thorns, one for every year in the life of Christ. It was an honor to take these ancient shards and find a way to work with them and to place them against the light again, where they really belong.”

THE HORROR: “You don’t understand what it’s like to be walking through desolation with no one else there,” McDonald recalled. “It was my first experience of how obliterating war can be to the efforts of mankind.”

FINAL RESTING PLACE: The exhibition will be installed permanently at the Main Post Chapel at the Presidio in San Francisco following the exhibition tour.

THE DETAILS: For more information, call 215-898-2083 or visit www.upenn.edu/ARG.

Originally published on April 10, 2008