Story-telling in glass

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Window dedicated to members of the Royal New Zealand Navy and New Zealand Merchant Navy who served in conflicts abroad. Hall of Remembrance, Auckland Museum. Image: Su Leslie 2018

I’ve always been drawn to the Auckland Museum’s Hall of Remembrance — a long marble gallery lit softly by multiple leadlight and stained glass windows set in the walls and ceiling.

It is a quiet space, where symbolism and personal loss hang heavy. Where column after column of names engraved on the walls mark, but do not do justice to, the thousands of New Zealanders who have died in wars, and continue to do so.

It’s difficult to reconcile that still, beautiful space with the noisy, ugly realities of conflict.

But perhaps that is the point.

A lie preserved in stained glass doesn’t make it more true. — Saul Williams

We must shine with hope, stained glass windows that shape light into icons, glow like lanterns borne before a procession. Who can bear hope back into the world but us.  — Marge Piercy

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23 thoughts on “Story-telling in glass

    • That’s exactly it Tish!
      To be fair, the gallery was first constructed after WWI and extended post-WWII, and there is a very different philosophy of the role of museums now.
      Our national museum Te Papa has an exhibition about Gallipoli which is based around the stories of a handful of individuals, complete with larger-than-life models of each of them in a realistic Gallipoli landscape — right down to the tears on their faces and the maggots in a tin of bully beef!! It’s the work of Peter Jackson’s Weta Workshop (Lord of the Rings movies, etc) so is hyper-real, and very theatrical. But backed up with letters and photos and oral histories of survivors to ensure accuracy.

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      • The Gallipoli exhibition sounds an excellent antidote to both the glorification and the sanitizing. Your account suddenly reminds me of Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth. She speaks of the death of her fiance and how his mother received out of the blue from the War Office a parcel containing his bloodstained tunic. It is hard to embrace all the thoughts/lack of thought, shock and emotions surrounding this single small event – one moment of many million moments of what war means.

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      • I think Testament of Youth (both the book and the TV series with Cheryl Campbell as Vera) is one of the most powerful accounts of WWI I’ve read/seen.
        The figure from the Te Papa exhibition that really had me in tears was that of a nurse Lottie Le Gallais, holding a letter she’d written to her brother. It was marked “Killed – Return to Sender.” The way the figure-makers captured her anguish is quite remarkable.

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  1. I doubt any of us who haven’t been in war can really understand, even if we were to see it depicted in all its ugliness, as when you visit a concentration camp, see the photos, and read about it. Nothing like living it. So perhaps beauty isn’t a bad way to remember it, if it gets people thinking. All war is hell, but some war is necessary. It’s determining which are the latter that’s the problem.

    Every time I’m in France, the monuments with names of those who died touch my heart and soul. Hopefully they do for others as well, lest we forget what we know even so partially.

    janet

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  2. A friend of mine has a t-shirt with the powerful message; “The first casualty of war is truth”. Being of a philosophical inclination, I asked him why he is wearing it and he replied: it is just a t-shirt. Bir of a disappointment.

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    • That is very funny, in a slightly sad way. It is a great message though, so I guess at least your friend is getting it out there. Better than being a walking advertisement for some big brand 😀

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  3. I think it’s exactly that conflict that one feels in a beautiful place like this with the ugly truth of war that helps making one think, and think and think. And the quotes are wonderful, especially the first one resonates with me.

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