Kerry James Marshall to design windows for the National Cathedral

WASHINGTON – Four years after removing the stained glass windows honoring two Confederate generals, officials at the Washington National Cathedral said on Wednesday they had chosen a renowned black artist, Kerry James Marshall, to design their replacements.

The artist first visited the cathedral on Wednesday after being tasked with treating a small injury at the country’s second-largest cathedral. With the poet and author Elisabeth alexander, Mr. Marshall will design two stained glass windows addressing themes of racial justice to replace those honoring Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.

“At the moment, I don’t have a clear idea of ​​what I think I’m going to do,” he said. “It will have to be a job capable of synthesizing a multiplicity of ideas and feelings about what the country represents for all of us. There will be some kind of imagery that comes across as an invitation to reflect on the meaning of America now. “

The 2017 decision to remove the windows was preceded by a debate that began in 2015, after a self-proclaimed white supremacist killed nine African Americans at an episcopal church in Charleston, SC. This became even more urgent in 2017, when white nationalists rallied in Charlottesville, Va., Against the removal of a statue of Lee. A woman was killed when one of these protesters drove her car into the crowd of counter-protesters.

“The windows have become barriers to make people feel fully welcome here,” the Right Reverend Randolph Hollerith, dean of the cathedral said Wednesday. “And so we got to the point where contextualization was no longer possible – but windows had to be removed from sacred space.”

Mr Marshall, who won a MacArthur Fellowship in 1997, has been acclaimed for a major retrospective of his work which opened in 2016 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and visited the Met Breuer in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. . He is known for shamelessly painting large-scale black figures, correcting their omission from the tradition of Western art.

For the cathedral, he will work on stained glass for the first time. The installation will cover four window sections, or lancets, measuring six feet high and one and a half feet wide. He also plans to include characters for his cathedral play.

“There will probably be characters in the windows, some of them will probably be black characters, but I can’t say that’s all you’re going to see there because I think the window span has to be wider than just that, ”he said.

In the summer of 2020, amid nationwide protests over the police murder of George Floyd, the cathedral began working with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture to plan the public display. windows removed. Lee’s window will be on display at the museum starting this weekend.

Ms Alexander – who will contribute to a poem that will be inscribed on stone tablets next to Mr Marshall’s windows – has visited the cathedral frequently since her childhood in Washington. She said she had never actually paid attention to the Lee and Jackson windows. “But it is a great gift from the progress of our society that now we are noticing and asking questions about why something is where it is and what it is teaching us.”

And the Washington National Cathedral has been asking questions like these for years now. In the western part of the cathedral, its leaders have long commemorated human rights figures. Stone carvings of Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks and others are on display there, on the so-called Human Rights Porch. In April, a tribute to Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, author and Nobel Prize winner, joined them.

Dean Hollerith said the decision to remove the windows was not without controversy.

“But I’m so proud that we spent time discussing why the windows were put in the first place, what happened in 1953 and the legacy of Jackson and Lee,” he said. he declares. “Cathedrals are never finished.

The new windows and the poem are expected to be unveiled in 2023.

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