Laurel Porcari LA porcari, architectural art glass
"Arbor Vitae" is the spectacular visual and ceremonial central focus of St. Jude's Catholic church. It is the reredos wall, the backdrop to the altar that conveys essential spiritual messages. In this case, the message is an abstract version of the tree of life, depicting the continuity of everlasting life and spiritual community. The 22' tall x 8' wide wall is made of fused and textured float glass panels that are laminated to sandblasted mirror and set in a custom stainless steel armature.
The goals for integrating the wall in the project were visual, spiritual, scalar, and functional. “Arbor Vitae” is the reredos wall, the ceremonial terminus of the central aisle that is the backdrop to the altar in Catholic churches. Because of its position, it features in the most important church sacraments of baptism, matrimony, and last rites. It was important that the wall read at multiple scales. It needed to be bold enough to be a beacon at the end of the long aisle and detailed enough to read at close range. Its content, the tree of life, was chosen for its universality. It conveys the continuous cycle of life, alludes to the organizational family tree, and is aspirational in its verticality. Functionally, the project forms the back wall of the ceremonial space of the church, separating it from the service spaces beyond.
I had great latitude and artistic freedom during this project. What was collaborative were scalar and material decisions and how best to structurally integrate the wall in the church design. The designers and client identified key themes and a desire to have abstract imagery appear in a single color family. I showed them a technique to achieve great relief and variety within one color family. In subsequent presentations they were shown large-scale drawings of the tree of life pattern. Arbor Vitae inspired the designer to commission the altar in a single piece of native Louisiana sinker cypress.
I wanted to expand on the technique a bit. The glass panels were made by pre-slumping thousands float glass strips. The pre-slumped strips were then embedded in prepared plaster/sand kiln beds, following a full sized pattern. The strips were then capped with 1/2" float glass. The entire composition was then fully fused together. The panels were then laminated to sand blasted and sealed mirrors and the edges were water jet cut to exact dimensions. The greatest technical challenge was to create a continuous pattern across the panels, which was accomplished by projecting the patterns onto the kiln beds.
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