What difference can art make in our experience of spaces and places? Does art add to the learning within a building?
These questions interested both New York City- and Minneapolis-based sculptor Andrea Stanislav and President Paul Pribbenow.
They met through the opportunity to commission a work of art for the Art and Identity initiative at Augsburg. Their answer to these questions, the glass fritting for the new building, will be among the first things you notice when you walk through the doors to the Hagfors Center for Science, Business, and Religion, in January, 2018.
Delicately transformed light will stream through the three-story curtain of glass in the building atrium and onto a large, warm wood panel wall. Crafted from local elm, the wall offers both a welcoming tone and a tender reminder of many magnificent trees lost to disease including some on the Augsburg quad by Memorial Hall.
The glass fritting design by Stanislav is one of several artist commissions planned for the new building as part of the Art and Identity initiative, which invites sponsorship of original artwork in the new building. The glass design is sponsored with a major gift from President Paul and Abigail Pribbenow. Previously the Pribbenow’s provided major funding to support the Christ Commons initiative.
Stanislav’s conception of the glass fritting for the windows speaks to the Lutheran heritage of Augsburg. By incorporating elements of Martin Luther’s handwritten original musical score for his composition, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, the artist has rendered the original score, reduced and simplified it, and set it with the graceful shapes of cells from the ring of red elm.
According to Stanislav, the hand-written notation speaks to another time and yet reveals itself today in the relevance and power of this hymn. It reflects an evolution of both language and notation with the mark making itself connecting us to Martin Luther the individual while also connecting us to the larger message of the music and the hymn.
Stanislav was attracted to this particular music and notation because Martin Luther’s hand notation is both simple and intriguing. To her eye, it functions as a kind of signature of the founding values of Lutheranism.
“I grew up in the 1970’s in Chicago living with my grandparents who spoke German. I was bilingual until I was 5 or 6 years old. But at the time, my family’s sentiment was to erase our heritage and disconnect from the past. I lost my bilingualism. Then I learned to read music by playing piano and trombone. I discovered to be literate in music is to be literate in another language, a language of the world.”
In considering the request for proposals for the Hagfors Center, the artist drew on time and experience.
“One of my first memories is of the sound of a big tree rustling in the backyard. The sound is so musical. I love the cold of winter and the starkness and beauty of trees, especially their stillness and the way they create a graceful backdrop. When I considered the glass wall fit, I was thinking of the feeling of snow falling. Martin Luther’s notation of the musical notes falls in the same way.”
In considering her design, she said, “The cellular structure between the tree rings reveals the effects of time on growth and development. It shows the motion of music dropping out of the elm.
“I appreciate the clarity and complement of the goals for this building, Plus its location creates an immediacy of experience and a dramatic sense of time.”
Stanislav says, too, that glass itself is an exciting medium. “We live in a time when we must be responsible and sustainable in our making. The ceramic fritting is an important component of the energy savings required for this building to qualify for LEED Silver certification. Sustainability is where my morals and my creating come together.”
As she sees it, “There’s a play between the notes and the elm and they create a push and pull. The cellular structure and the music create a marvelous tension for design. It’s an intimate relationship between them.”
This intimacy will translate into the inspiring space of the Hagfors Center. As the light pours through the glass through the ceramic fit, the individual will see and feel the shapes on and around them.
For President Pribbenow, the combination of elements made sense.
“Music lives at the heart of Lutheranism and in the hearts of Auggies everywhere. When Abigail and I saw the way Andrea had found this remarkable notation by the hand of Martin Luther from 1527 of the great hymn, and the way she connected that image to the shape of cells in the ring of a red elm, we knew we wanted to make our gift to sponsor it.”
The artist is currently working in St. Petersburg, Russia, with the U.S. Consulate on work related to the 900-day Siege of Leningrad in 1941-1943, during which an estimated 1.5 million Russian citizens died. During the siege, art making and cultural production helped sustain the survivors.
“I’m interviewing siege survivors who are now in their 80s and 90s, learning about their will to survive during such terrible conditions.” She’s collecting their stories using interviews, diaries and objects they saved from that time and experience. “In May, I had a show at the Museum of the Defense of Leningrad, which is the Russian national museum of the siege.
Examples of her work included can be found on her website: andreastanislav.com
As President Pribbenow said, “Knowing that light will pour through the tall glass of the Hagfors Center, and that people will pass though the reflected shape of the notes of this stirring hymn, ties the whole idea of the building together for me. Science, business, and religion, drawn together in space, time, and rhythm of the ages.”