For the rest of the year, we’re highlighting amazing works of art that became part of the SLAM collection in 2015. We’ll be posting a new acquisition daily through the end of the year. You can read each installment here.
Halfway through their journey through St. Louis Modern, visitors to the exhibition are met by The Pelican in her Piety and Abraham and Isaac — stunning works of midcentury stained glass made by the venerable St. Louis firm Emil Frei & Associates, which recently gave the windows to the Art Museum.
The Pelican in her Piety features a large white bird with spread wings shielding two small white birds in a nest below; above the birds is a chalice and, above that, a vine with grapes. Abraham and Isaac shows a central image of a large hand descending vertically to a smaller horizontal hand holding a knife. Below this allusion to the Genesis story Akedah story is a flaming pyre, to the right is the ram the Abraham sacrificed in place of his son.
Designed by Francis Deck, one of the studio’s leading postwar artists, the windows were commissioned for a renovation of the former St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church. Their modern design demonstrates the flexibility of a medium that is perhaps most associated with medieval art. And, as a new addition to the collection, the windows will be a permanent legacy of St. Louis Modern, said exhibition co-curator David Conradsen.
“The windows illustrate the saturated hues, abstract compositions, and a range of innovative materials and decorative techniques such as airbrushing and screenprinting employed by this significant stained glass studio,” Conradsen said in an acquisition proposal. “The works also serve to document, preserve, and celebrate the artistic vitality and longevity of an internationally recognized, regionally based art-making enterprise, in continuous operation by the Frei family since it was established in St. Louis in 1898.”
The windows are fine examples of why Emil Frei & Associates was dubbed “the future of stained glass” by Architectural Record. In the St. Louis Modern catalogue essay “Emil Frei & Associates and the Rise of Modern Stained Glass,” co-curator Genevieve Cortinovis notes Deck’s windows demonstrate a mastery of color, detail, and theological symbolism.
“While the pelicans are undeniably the central theme, Deck lavishes as much attention on the surrounding leaves and surmounting grape vine, leading the eye towards the heavens,” Cortinovis writes. “With a profound knowledge of Christian theology, the artist excelled in conveying complex spiritual concepts with abstract symbolism and minimal pictorial narrative.”