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A Chagall and its meditation garden


“Great art picks up where nature ends.” – Marc Chagall

As we were barging through France a few weeks back, one of our stops was to see Marc Chagall’s Peace stained glass window in La Chapelle des Cordeliers, a 13th century former monastery in Sarrebourg, Mozelle, France. The impressive 130-foot-tall stained glass window was designed and installed from 1974-76. It was Chagall’s largest stained glass window (more than 13,000 pieces!), which includes windows he created for Reims Cathedral and the United Nations building in NYC.

No Chagall goats and flying violinists in this window – scenes from the old testament in the form of a tree of life, centered on Adam and a buxom Eve, that looked more like a bouquet of life.

It’s really a chapel (and tourist attraction) for meditation and reflection. There are only padded cubes to sit on and some subtle interpretive information on the design of the windows. The design of the window matches the theme of the UN windows, and of a tapestry in a museum almost across the street from this chapel – peace.

Chagall was Russian — and Jewish — but took on commissions for a few churches when requested. Sort of like Neil Diamond recording Christmas music. Though Chagall was so excited to be asked to create a window for such a large space — and loved this area of France — he gifted his portion of its creation. He was 89 at the time. He died in 1985 at the age of 98.

The plants pressing against the glass made these large glass boxes seem more like plant prisons.

Outside the chapel, in an enclosed area, not seen from the street, is a meditation garden, that legend has it, Chagall loved. I did not. As you can see from these photos, it was composed, mostly of trees, plants and bushes in large clear glass. They gave the appearance of being huge terrariums. There were benches to sit, quotes from Chagall spread around the garden and supposedly, on occasion, you could hear Chagall discussing his work through outdoor speakers (I didn’t hear them it myself, even if I did, if they were in French, I’d have only understood every 16th word).

All the reflective surfaces made the garden seem distanced from any other plant life. In contrast the Chagall window seemed more natural than the garden.

I guess I didn’t like the trees & plants inside the glass cubes. The bushes & plants at the base of the trees were up against the glass and I know I heard them tapping on the glass, begging to be let out. I liked the modernist, straight-lined, squared-off layout of the garden, but to have trees and plants to look at and not be able to touch, smell, watch shiver in the wind, or hear the rustle of, seemed kinda’ strange, like some garden museum in the year 3009, when the only trees we have left are exhibited like this.

The garden was a complete contrast to the organic, human-created, colorful, stained glass window on the inside of the building. The only thing they had in common was glass. That was obviously the garden designers intent, but I’d have rather spent time contemplating the window than this particular garden.

If you’d like to see a short video of this garden, window and nearby tapestry, check out this bit I found. It’s in French, FYI.

http://culturebox.france3.fr/player.swf?video=13825

I have a long-time garden blog, a popular garden on America's largest garden tour, and have co-written a book on garden design titled, "Buffalo-Style Gardens: Create a Quirky, One-of-a-Kind Private Garden with Eye-Catching Designs" When I'm not doing all that, I am an advertising designer always out looking to design things to promote your business. Look me up at #jcharlier.

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