LET THERE BE LIGHT: Stained glass is a medium most often associated with a spiritual message. It gives color and form to the light of faith as it blazes into the sacred spaces of the world’s great cathedrals, churches, and temples. Whether that holy association is based on the astounding medieval glass of Chartres or Sainte-Chapelle, or on the equally wonderful early-20th-century work of Louis Comfort Tiffany, it tends, by its dazzling and transformative nature, to confirm the idea that this form of art serves as a vessel for divine radiance.
But what happens to stained glass when it goes outdoors and loses the distinctive impact of its contrast with a dark interior? In Kathleen Crocetti’s new project for the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden’s Summer Art in the Garden program, the beautiful freestanding stained-glass mosaics reveal many qualities not seen in their indoor counterparts, and they do so while retaining the sense of transcendence with which stained glass has traditionally been perceived. Nature, too, as so many great philosophers and poets have assured us, can be a place of worship. These large panels (some measure more than 10 feet on the horizontal) depict either California landscapes or native plants, both subjects keeping with the mission of the Botanic Gardens.
The majority of the pieces are located along the Easton Trail in an area that was hit hard by the Jesusita Fire, although there are two particularly memorable examples on either side of the meadow. Crocetti has a keen eye for the capacity of her chosen medium to represent depth and perspective, and pieces like “Hoop Houses for the Western Raspberry” play with the effects available through the inclusion of geometric and curvilinear forms. The monumental “Agricultural Color of the Central Coast,” which covers five large panels, depicts plowed furrows that recede toward a vanishing point on the horizon beneath a sky of swirling blues and grays.
Everything about this project exudes care and effort on the part of all those involved. The pieces themselves are painstakingly crafted and full of intricate detail. They have been sited brilliantly so as to catch the light at certain times of day, and even the frames and the labels attached to them demonstrate the same level of attention and focus. The label on the piece “Lewisia Longipetala,” for example, not only specifies the medium and the dimensions of the work, but also indicates that visitor will experience “Best viewing in the afternoon.”
Crocetti will be on-site this Wednesday, August 8, beginning at 1 p.m. for an event that is open to the public in which she will unveil three additional pieces, including one that was conceived when she and her son were cycling between Santa Barbara and her home in Watsonville, California. The piece, called “Arroyo Hondo Arch Bridge,” distills the essence of Crocetti’s approach, which involves using art to invite the public into a dialogue with each other, with the artwork, and with their natural environment. During the August 8 event, Crocetti will be soliciting further input from visitors and inviting those present to participate in the planning and execution of one more final stained glass mosaic for the Botanic Garden.
In the wake of the devastating wildfires of 2008 and 2009, this lovely and nourishing project serves a salutary purpose by reminding Santa Barbarans, and all visitors to the garden, of the fragility of all sacred spaces, especially those that occur naturally. If we intend to keep these places of worship open for future generations, we will have to continually remember to look out for ways to let the divine light in. The exhibition continues through Monday, September 3.