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Celtic Cross by Margaret Almon

From Moravian Simplicity to Episcopal Exuberance with a Celtic Cross

Celtic Cross by Margaret Almon
Celtic Episcopal Cross by Margaret Almon in orange, azure and cobalt blue, glass, gold smalti, millefiori center, on slate, 6×8 inches.

I grew up in the Moravian Church, which is Protestant and often modest, plain and simple in church buildings.  I suspect my home church, Edmonton Moravian, falls in the category of mid-century modern, which is the descriptor of much of my built world in the 1970’s.

 

Edmonton Moravian Church
Edmonton Moravian Church via Stella Blu on Flickr.

The flat roof puzzles me, since surely it was a resting place for several feet of snow every winter.  The font for the Moravian Church sign is san serif, and simple.  Those 3 entry doors opened into a foyer lined with coat racks for all the winter garments.  As a girl, I loved being surrounded by the friendly people of this church, as I looked for my coat after service.

 

Amber Windows at Edmonton Moravian Church
Amber Windows at Edmonton Moravian Church via PinkMoose on Flickr.

I remember writing a poem, searching for imagery to describe the sanctuary: a bungalow rec room.  Looking at a photo many years later, I see Danish Modern with the blonde wooden pews.

 

Edmonton Moravian Sanctuary with Ritchie Trombone Choir
Edmonton Moravian Sanctuary with Ritchie Trombone Choir via their Website

The first Catholic sanctuary I entered surprised me with the sheer quantity of decoration, color and sparkle.  Stratoz attends an Episcopal church, more ornate than my childhood church, but not overwhelming.  I discovered that the Celtic cross form, with the halo, is also referred to as an Episcopal cross, and Stratoz’s church has several of them.

Let Justice Roll Down.
Let Justice Roll Down. Holy Trinity Episcopal, Lansdale. Photo by Wayne Stratz.

I ponder my travels from the plain church into a love of liturgical art with color and iridescence, and my most recent Celtic cross in orange and shades of blue.  The simple is beautiful in its own way, and I responded to that whole-heartedly.  I also was surrounded by beautiful music, as Moravians cherish music, and yes, trombones.

For a musical treat check out Ritchie Trombone Choir’s mp3’s, including the graceful Handel and the swinging Green Dolphin Street.

 

Sarabande
by: Georg Friedrich Händel


Green Dolphin Street
by: Ned Washington

Alphonse Mucha: Art Nouveau, Moravians and Art as a Bridge

Whitman Salmagundi Tin with Mucha Design
Whitman Salmagundi Tin with Mucha Design. Photo by Margaret Almon.

I checked a book out of the library about Alphonse Mucha(1860-1939), by Sarah Mucha, and realized that the Whitman Chocolates Tin I’ve been using as a cash box was a reproduction of one from 1923, based on a Mucha poster.   When I saw this tin in a gift shop a few years ago, glimmering with a mosaic pattern, I had to buy it since I’m a mosaic artist, and of course I had to eat all the chocolates. The has other posters by Mucha, and I am intrigued by his use of mosaic backgrounds.

Mucha Round Circle Woman Portrait
Mucha Round Circle Woman Portrait

A facsimile of a mosaic, done as a print, and adding another delight for the eyes amongst his detailed botanicals, and he also sketched fanciful jewelry in his posters, which ultimately became incarnated as actual jewels, when George Fouquet was inspired by Mucha’s work.  Fouquet also commissioned Mucha to design his jewelry shop in Paris in 1901.  When Fouquet renovated, he was so attached to Mucha’s work that he had the shop dismantled and kept in storage, until the Carnavalet Museum reconstructed it and put it on display.  What a treasure to discover in storage!

Mucha via karonf on Flickr
Mucha via karonf on Flickr

 

Art Nouveau Mosaic Floor Design - Mucha
Art Nouveau Mosaic Floor Design – Mucha via theurbansnapper on Flickr

Mucha was from Czechoslovakia, but spent many years in Paris and US, working as an artist.  He returned home to paint a series of huge paintings about the Czech people, his Slav Epic. I felt a connection with him when I saw that one of the paintings is of Jan Hus, who protested the selling of indulgences by the Catholic church, and was burned at the stake in the 15th Century.  Hus’s followers went on to become the Moravian Church, and the denomination I grew up in.  What I didn’t know was that Hus’s martyrdom triggered a Czech Rebellion, and the Hussite Wars, and is intertwined with the political history of the Moravian people as well as the Moravian church.

Municipal (Community) House.jpg
Municipal (Community) House via spacedlaw on Flickr

Another surprise to me in this book, was Mucha’s death in 1939, after the Nazi’s invaded Czechoslovakia, and he was arrested by the Gestapo and interrogated.  He died shortly after his release.  The Mucha Museum has a quote by the artist, which I resonate with, describing his work as a bridge between people.  His Slav Epic was about bringing forth the stories of his people, and ultimately about hope.

The purpose of my work was never to destroy but always to create, to construct bridges, because we must live in the hope that humankind will draw together and that the better we understand each other the easier this will become.

Z is for Zinzendorf and the Moravians

Moravian Mosaic at St. Vitus Cathedral. Photo by Barbara Rich.
Moravian Mosaic at St. Vitus Cathedral. Photo by Barbara Rich.

A Z word that Moravians know is Count Nicholas Zinzendorf, from the 18th Century, who took in Czech Moravian refugees, followers of Jan Hus, a protestant martyr who predated Luther, and let them live on his Herrnhut estate in Germany.  Though Lutheran, he became enamoured of the “heart religion” of the Moravians, and eventually founded the town of Bethlehem, PA in 1742.  His daughter Benigna organized the beginnings of Moravian College, where I lived for two years, while my mother attended Moravian Seminary.

My mother went on a tour of Czech sites of Moravian history, and took a photo of this wonderful mosaic at St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague.  The Moravian church’s symbol is of a Lamb, very much like this one.

H is For H.D.: Poet Hilda Doolittle

[Scrapbook containing photographs of H. D., Kenneth Mapherson, Bryher, and others with various clippings, Classical architecture, sculpture, etc.]
Scrapbook containing photographs of H. D., Kenneth Mapherson, Bryher, and others with various clippings, Classical architecture, sculpture, etc.
H is H.D., as the poet Hilda Doolittle(1886-1961) chose to be called.  When I discovered her poems, with their striking imagery, I also felt a kinship with her because of her Moravian heritage, born in Bethlehem, PA.  I grew up in the Moravian church, and as I began writing poetry in my teens and twenties, it seemed quite fortuitous to find H.D.  She was often described by critics as “imagist” and although she didn’t like that label, her poems do have a vivid sense of imagery.  Here is one of my favorites:
“Heat” by H. D.

O wind, rend open the heat,
cut apart the heat,
rend it to tatters.

Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air–
fruit cannot fall into heat
that presses up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.

Cut the heat–
plough through it,
turning it on either side
of your path.

 

Related:

A Star Come to Earth:  The Moravian Star at Christmas<

Clear, Bright, Gleaming: Easter and Clearance of the Spirit

Log Cabin in Copper and Green by Margaret Almon

This morning I went to my husband’s Episcopal church for a sunrise Easter service.  I don’t usually go, but this was the first year in my memory of a sunrise service, and I loved this as a child.  In Edmonton,this involved getting up at 4:30 in the morning, and putting on a new pastel Easter dress and a warm coat over top of that, and then standing outside, often with snow still on the ground, and an overcast sky, with the Moravian Trombone choir intoning beautiful chorales, and singing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today: Alleluia!” As the Moravian Music Foundation notes, the 18th and 19th Century Moravians considered music a necessity of life.

This morning’s service began in darkness at 6:00 am, with the lighting of the Paschal candle, and proceeded by candlelight vigil as the sun rose, and the stained glass windows became illumined.  Growing up in the Moravian church, I was accustomed to simple spare sanctuaries.  As an artist, the Episcopalian church is a revelation, with art as part of the spiritual life, art as a way to reflect as much light as possible.

As I prepare for the Bucks Chapter Guild of Craftsmen Craft Studio Clearance Sale on April 25th, 2009, I started thinking about the word “clearance.”  I looked up the etymology, and was surprised to see it is from the Latin root, clarus, “clear, bright, gleaming,” and ultimately from the Indo-European kele, meaning to call.  This is serendipitous for a mosaic artist, as the essence of the glass comes from light, bright and gleaming.  I have a closet in my studio, that is full of mosaics, squirreled away in the darkness, hibernating, mostly forgotten.  I brought them out, to be in the light, and become reanimated, like the log cabin square in copper and green.  Many of these are from earlier incarnations of my work, and I can see the seeds of my current work within them.  It is a fact of enjoying creating art, that I have more art than I can really store, and so I am clearing out for the new, and sharing some light at a lower than usual price.

A Star Come to Earth: The Moravian Star at Christmas

Growing up in the Moravian Church, Christmas was a time of beauty, and the centerpiece was the Moravian Star, originally made as a geometry lesson in a German Moravian School in the 1830’s. Art and science come together in this polyhedron. No matter how many points, it is still a polyhedron. The first stars were made of paper. A group of older people used to make stars in a Sunday school classroom at my church, but out of plastic, rather than paper. The stars were hung on a cord across the ceiling of the room, a small galaxy watching over whoever had class in that room.

This photo by freeformkatia captures the warm light that emanates from a Moravian star. I still get excited when I see ones lighting up people’s porches, because in my hometown, they were very rare.

I was blessed with a lovely couple at my church, who treated me like a daughter, and when I left to move from Canada to the United States, Mr. Harke made a paper star for me. I felt honored that he created something with his own hands as a gift, and when I first saw it glowing in a dark room, I couldn’t believe it was actually for me, such a beautiful creation. Sadly, the house I moved into burned, and the star was incinerated before I had a chance to hang it for even one Christmas.

The incarnation story of Christmas is about the spirit made flesh, God as a little child, incarnate. In making art, one shares in this incarnation, taking the creative spirit and earthly materials, and making beauty. The creative spirit comes in many forms, from cooking, to laughing, to singing for joy, and hopefully we have the freedom to express this creativity in spite of our precarious existence, in spite of fear, suffering and grief. Our dreams can burn down to ashes. Sometimes this paralyzes me, but I am grateful to those who love me, and nuture my spirit, and make incarnation possible.

If you would like to make some ornament size stars, check out this YouTube Video on making German Paper Stars, and this step-by-step set of instructions at Nagle Design.