December 2, 2005
“Have you ever wondered about these windows? Why didn’t they just use plain glass? Why use these images?”
These were the questions Steve Hicks, Oklahoma Baptist University professor of art, asked as he began a Chapel service message on Raley Chapel’s art and architecture window. This was the ninth lecture in the university’s 12-part series on the historic stained glass windows.
“There are more than 1,800 shades of glass that tell the history of our faith, the history of our state, the tenets of this university, and the histories of the great fields of teaching,” Hicks said. “I want to give credit to the artist who designed these windows; her name was Ruth Dunn.
“Certainly John Wesley Raley gave his interpretation of what should be represented,” said Hicks. “But Ruth Dunn had to research all of this and bring it together into a coherent entity. She has brought more to meet the eye in each one of these windows than any broad description can convey. These windows were created by an artist to visually point out the values that can be found at this Christian liberal arts university.
“What does art do? It leads to a more profound concept of life,” said Hicks. “It does not change the facts of life, but can change the way we view our lives, expressing sensations too subtle for words.”
Hicks pointed out that the top of the art window displays an image of Stonehenge, an architectural structure built before written history, attesting to man’s earliest architectural endeavors during the megalithic age. He mentioned the creation of the English structure was an effort that took planning and communication, as well as labor and skill to complete.
Below Stonehenge is a depiction of a running horse, taken from the walls of prehistoric caves in France, known as the caves of Lascaux. Hicks said that the early artists who painted the horse were not only attempting to interpret optical reality, but were also trying to make a record of events for which they had no words.
The Middle East is represented in the window by hieroglyphics, demonstrating that the beginning of written thought grew out of art. The window acknowledges Egyptian influence on society with images of the great pyramids, man-made creations that can be seen from outer space.
Also represented are the post and lintel, a system of building that allows for more space within a smaller structure, and a column from the temple in Jerusalem.
In the upper middle section of the window, Ionic, Doric, and Corinthian columns are displayed, emphasizing the influence that Greek and Roman style maintain on architecture today, including buildings on the OBU campus.
Greek art’s realistic idealization is exemplified in an image of the Discus Thrower by Myron.
The stylized Roman arch, which gave way to the vaulting and flying buttresses seen in Gothic architecture, also is depicted. Hicks mentioned that these architectural elements were able to transform churches of the time from relatively plain structures to the most prominent in the community.
In the lower middle section of the window, two figures are shown holding crowns. One is holding a crown of gold and the other has a crown of laurel. Hicks was not certain who the figures were meant to represent, but said it is clear that they were meant to portray the mosaics which lined the walls of early Roman and medieval churches.
The likeness of a round rose window also is present in the middle of the window. Hicks emphasized how it was created in a way that is unique to the art window and possibly is “Dunn’s bow to the stain glass arts.”
The lower portion of the window holds representations of both formalistic and expressionistic styles of early 20th century art. Included are Pablo Picasso’s cubist approach and Piet Mondrian’s formalistic cerebral approach, involving reduced compositions of primary colors and straight lines.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s horizontal prairie style of architecture and Louis Sullivan’s vertical skyscraper style of architecture are both represented. According to Hicks, they symbolize the space that we inhabit physically, psychologically and spiritually.
The image of a vessel with Native American décor shows respect for the artistic influence of Native American culture, as well as paying homage to the arts and crafts movement of the 20th century.
At the bottom of the window is an illustration of the church at Ronchamp designed by Le Corbusier. It is a fitting final image of the window, said Hicks, as it represents the fusion of architecture, sculpture and modern art in a church – a vessel of faith.
“These panels not only represent developments in art and architecture, but also the spiritual energy that is a towering force in art,” said Hicks. “Christianity has used art to communicate scripture since its earliest formation.”