Installation 1852-2018

From New York City to Sleeswiik-Holstein

On one of the last days of 2016, I came across the German Ebay’s art auction on my iMac while in Manhattan. Outside it was freezing, a howling December wind was bashing against the windows. The computer screen, on the other hand, was like a homely fireplace. I was warmed by what I saw.

A trader from a tiny village in the German Sleeswijk-Holstein state was offering four weathered stained glass windows from an unknown German synagogue (mentioned to presumably be from the 1790 – 1850 period). Even though they were broken, they came across as colourful and resilient on my illuminated screen. They impressed me.

Recklessly or maybe deliberately I made the unknown German trader an offer from my chair in New York City.

The response appeared on my screen before I could even resume my breathing: ’’Gratuliert, Sie Sind der glückliche Besitzer der 4 Fenster’ 

I was so bewildered it hardly registered. The reality of payment and delivery protocol quickly ended this, though. We came to an agreement that the windows (weighing 400kgs in total) would be moved to my Amsterdam workshop come March. I would officially own the, yet unseen, windows as of December 31, 2016.

I traced the images of the stained glass windows from my computer screen onto cellophane paper, one at a time. Coloured markers did the rest. This way I formed an understanding of the windows.

Despite this modern way of meeting through an internet page, a need arose to save these old souls and to have them tell their stories in a dignified and protected environment. I wondered: Where would that be? How would that be? What would that be?

These are the answers that led to the creation of the sketches and the model:

We, the visitors, the viewers, first need to ascend a staircase. We have to journey upwards to pay our respects. Once at the top, they, the four weathered old windows, will tell their touching stories. At the same time, the viewer will be moved and impressed by the play of light through the old, thin, and colouredglass. The gaping black holes, lined with exceptionally strong cast iron shapes, leave us speechless. After all this, we descend back down again.

From New York City to Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Cyber-leafing through the inspiring magazine www.dezeen.com, my eye fell on the beautiful website http://www.ateliercole.com. The housing on high bamboo legs and elegant steps instantly struck a chord: It needs to be something like this! I immediately thought. But… this architect works in Cambodia and has very prestigious projects on his hands, why would he respond to my model? was the doubt that soon followed.

I decided to be bold and wrote him, asking if he thought he would ever be able to build something in Europe. Attaching the images of the windows, the model, and a description of the project to be realised. An email written in Dutch arrived in my mailbox, its sender architectural office Cole. A Dutch architect happened to be working for the Cambodia office. After extensive mailing and skyping, she became my ‘rendering’ executor. The Cole architectural office contributes ideas and supervises the project, which, by now, has grown into a beautiful construction (be it on paper) in which the bamboo has been replaced by a construction made of steel.

From New York City to Amsterdam

In the meantime, March 2017 has arrived. The model is carefully cut into numbered pieces and travels with me across the ocean: to Europe. Here, the model is rebuild in the Amsterdam artist studio.

I contact the German trader, who is eager to bring over the windows. He and a strong friend leave from Northern

Germany in a van in the dark of night and arrive just in time for a delicious Frühstück, chez Marianne’.

I had imagined all sorts of things about the windows from December through March. And now they were positioned here against the walls of my studio. No light shone through them as it had on the internet page. The two German men and I looked at them with approval.

They were happy they had finally finished their job and I was content and overwhelmed by the reality of the giant windows in front of me, extremely heavy and partially broken.

I didn’t pay very careful attention to the details or inspect the windows from up close with the two exhausted gentlemen standing at my side. Ill do that later, alone,were my thoughts. After a hearty farewell, the van, now 400 kgs lighter, disappeared out of sight.

Once alone in my studio, I reluctantly walked closer towards my ‘loved ones’. Finally, I was face to face with them. A confusing period followed.

Partially because of my high expectations and insufficient knowledge on stained glass, slowly I came under the impression that the glass sections had been replaced with ‘plastic’. I tapped the thin glass multiple times in various places, but the tone it produced was dull instead of clear. I became convinced I had been scammed and was dealing with a fake (‘fake glass’).

I contacted the trader who advised me to apply the well-known Nadelprüfung’. This means pushing a heated needle into the glass. If it’s plastic, the needle will melt through the surface. I immediately followed his advice. The heated needle continuously slipped on the ‘glass’. Nothing melted away. I was embarrassed by my own inexperience.

It wasn’t long before I decided to learn more about the techniques and history of stained glass. The next necessary step was to follow a workshop in stained glass. (www.amsterdamseglasinloodzetterij.nl)

When the course ended, I asked my tutors to come visit my workshop because some glass needed to be restored. The son from the renowned family business came over to take pictures, with which he would set up a restoration plan with his father. Glazier Jr. started to tap the coloured glass, just as I had done. He walked from window to window, shyly looked at me. ‘I think the glass is made of plastic,’ he solemnly said. He decided to take a loosened piece of ‘glass’ with him to show his father. Who could discern without a doubt what it was by cutting off a piece with a glass cutter.

The announcement by stained glass artist Sr. soon followed: Old, thin, rare, and valuable GLASS.

Now the time had come to carefully start cleaning the precious windows. To my utter surprise I discovered three different signatures on one of the windows of the stained glass artists that had crafted it. The year 1852 was clearly engraved in the glass.

It was a wonderful find since the trader from the north had not yet known about that. The three craftsmen came from the village of Celle (Niedersachsen). I am still unsure whether the synagogue was built in Celle or somewhere else in that region. This will require more research.

From Phnom Penh to Amsterdam to Hardinxveld-Giessendam and back

The Dutch architect from Phnom Penh let me know she was coming over to the Netherlands for some private affairs. She visited to look at the windows and the location that would need to be built. This too was a special meeting from which I learned much. Together we picked a contractor who seemed most suitable for the job. After several visits to Hardinxveld-Giessendam, the place where the chosen contractor is based, the future construction of installation 1852 – 2018 became a fact and was planned for March 2018.