Beth Ezekiel Synagogue Owen Sound, Ontario Canada
The Artist’s Perspective: Leigh Greaves
The opportunity to design windows for the Beth Ezekiel congregation came about as a result of a decision by Alisa Van Wyck to have two memorial windows created to celebrate her mother’s life. These windows were installed in the Shul, and soon sparked the interest of the rest of the congregation in using the remaining windows to tell the stories of the families that continue to support this unique synagogue.
Leigh Greaves is a native Torontonian who moved to the area in 1983. A self-taught artist, she has been working in glass for about 15 years. In 1995 she opened Artemisia Glass in downtown Owen Sound where she has a shop and a studio. Leigh lives on a farm in Annan with her husband Frank and her children Parris, Tessa, and Brianna.
After a congregational meeting, it was decided that I would be responsible for meeting with the participants and interpreting their individual stories in glass. A consultative design process meant having the opportunity to develop a relationship with each family, and their ideas and desires ultimately guided the process. In order for these very different designs to work together, it was necessary that there be some common elements in all the windows. If you look closely, you will see that clear beveled pieces, iridescent glass, and a background of Baroque glass is used throughout. The border glass is also the same on all the windows, and each pair share a common corner colour, which is carried to the facing windows across the synagogue. The techniques used by the artisans at Artemisia Glass during fabrication include leading, copperfoil, and sandblasting of red and black “flashed” glass.
I thank Alisa Van Wyck for being the catalyst and a very enthusiastic supporter throughout the project. Alisa and Mike Rabovsky were invaluable resources when it came to interpreting the Hebrew! Thanks also to Jeff Elie for his guidance throughout, and for his editorial and photographic efforts with regard to this account of the windows.
It has been my great pleasure to meet with the families involved and gain a greater understanding of the factors that brought their ancestors to settle here in Owen Sound. Tears were not uncommon as the histories were told, and more than once I had goose bumps as I listened to tales of great courage, true compassion, and steadfast love. It is a gift to be able to see your relatives in these terms, and I congratulate the sponsoring families and the entire congregation for honouring the memory of their loved ones in this way.
It is a rare honour for an artist to be asked to do work that will reside in a house of worship. I feel privileged and blessed.
Phase Two: The lower panels
The design of the lower panels of the windows had to accomplish several things:
.Connect in a definite way with the story panel above it
.Endeavour to tie the existing west windows with the new windows
Reinforce the message of the story window directly above
Create a unified, finished look for the project.
In order to accomplish these objectives, the lower panels were designed to repeat the red and black border treatment, while using a baroque background glass that could be seen to be flowing from the upper to the lower windows. The rectangular grid pattern with the central red circle was a direct reflection of the west windows, creating a common pattern for the eye to follow around the room.
The choice for the symbol to be sandblasted into the red flashed glass circle took some thought. I wanted the symbols to relate directly to the story window above, but also to be subtle and natural, in the hope that they will serve as points for contemplation during services.
The approach to these circles is quite different in the vestibule. There, the message of the dove is constant: Peace as you arrive, Peace as you leave, Peace as you ascend and descend the stairs. The two doves facing each other in the double windows are there to remind us that it can be one of a person’s greatest accomplishments to turn an enemy into a friend.
“I’d like to thank the congregation of Beth Ezekiel for entrusting me with this wonderful project. A more supportive and positive group would be hard to find! My thanks go to all those who shared their stories and took the time to help me understand the practices and symbols of their exceedingly rich Jewish culture. I learned so much!
Congratulations for having the courage to continue with the windows when other seemingly insurmountable problems arose. Beth Ezekiel is an example of the good things that happen when a community has the faith and good sense to invest in itself!”
— Leigh Graeves