Creativity from Destruction, or Peace and Reconciliation: Coventry Cathedral

I was talking with a friend recently about creativity coming from destruction, and Coventry Cathedral popped into my head.  So I googled it (because what else would you do?), found the Coventry Cathedral website, and was immediately deeply moved. Just last weekend they dedicated a new sculpture in the cathedral ruins in celebration of the Golden Jubilee, or 50th anniversary, of the “new” church.  (Stay with me — I’ll give you some images and history in a sec.)   The sculpture, Choir of Survivors, was made by a German soldier and is “dedicated to civilians killed or injured in aerial bombing during wars past and present,” particularly German civilians.(1)  They talk a lot at Coventry about their Peace and Reconciliation Ministry, and it seems to me that they’re really living it.

The Choir of Survivors, Helmut Heinze, Coventry Cathedral, Coventry UK (http://wikimapia.org/30288176/The-Choir-of-Survivors-Coventry-Cathedral)

So. Some history.  Coventry Cathedral was built in the 16th century (according to the Coventry website, or the 14th-15th centuries according to Wikipedia) as a parish church dedicated to St. Michael, on the site of an earlier church, but not consecrated as a cathedral until 1918.  During World War II, on November 15, 1940, the town of Coventry was bombed because it was a major munitions center and produced 25% of all aircraft British aircraft during the war.  (Coventry was bombed so badly that Joseph Goebbels (Nazi Minister of Propaganda) used the word “Coventrated” when discussing similar destruction.)  The church was bombed and burned during Operation Moonlight Sonata,(2) and the next day they decided to rebuild.  Rather than razing the ruins of the old church, though, they built a new, very modern building next to it.  The new portion was consecrated in 1962, and together they form “one living cathedral.”(3) Continue reading

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“I hated conventional art. I began to live.” (Mary Cassatt’s Woman Bathing, 1890-91)

I recently re-discovered a Mary Cassatt exhibition catalog that I’d forgotten that I had.  It’s been on the shelf for years — I think that my parents got it for me when they went to the exhibit Mary Cassatt: Modern Woman at the Art Institute of Chicago years ago.  Mary Cassatt was not an artist who appealed to me in my youth.  Too traditionally domestic appearing for a somewhat rebellious teenager and 20-something.  The title Mary Cassatt: Modern Woman still doesn’t grab me, but for some reason I picked up the catalog.  Then I remembered  a Cassatt print that I used to have up and that I still love and which, it turns out, was part of this same exhibit.  (Isn’t it fascinating how our brains work?)   Here’s the print:

Woman Bathing, Mary Cassatt, 1890-91, The Art Institute, Chicago

So I started reading some of the catalog and browsing through the images, and it turns out that Mary Cassatt was not particularly enmeshed in the domestic world that she depicts.  She was not married and she did not have children. (The children that she painted were her nieces, nephews, and the children of her friends.)  She successfully navigated the male-dominated art world of Paris and the US in the late 19th – early 20th centuries, conquering stereotypes and prohibitions against women artists left and right.  She was determined and motivated and was able to enter the Impressionists’ circle which would have been almost impossible for an American and a woman. Continue reading