Kerry James Marshall Windows Detail (2023-09-23) by Kerry James MarshallWashington National Cathedral
Why New Windows at Washington National Cathedral?
Stone workers aligning vaulting stones (1974) by Washington National CathedralWashington National Cathedral
Construction of the Cathedral across the 20th century overlapped with a nation that was finding its footing in a new and different world. It embodied the confidence and national pride that emerged in the wake of World War II. Big buildings, however, require big funding.
United Daughters of Confederacy (1912) by Harris & EwingWashington National Cathedral
Oftentimes, donations came with key restrictions
As the United Daughters of the Confederacy and Cathedral leaders courted each other about ways to honor Robert E. Lee at the Cathedral, the women were clear that their financial support would not allow the portrait of Lee to be paired with a representative of the Union.
The Lee Jackson Windows formerly at Washington National Cathedral (1953) by Wilbur H. Burnham StudiosWashington National Cathedral
The Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson Windows
The windows honoring Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, dedicated in 1953, included scenes from both generals' military careers, as well as two images of the Confederate battle flag. Below the two windows, limestone tablets lionized both men.
The women of the United Daughters of the Confederacy were the leading evangelists of the “Lost Cause” narrative, which painted the Civil War as a valiant struggle for states’ rights, not a bid to preserve slavery. The Cathedral’s Lee-Jackson windows, installed at a time when the last generations of Confederate veterans were dying and a year before Brown v. Board of Education ended legalized segregation, benefited both the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the cash-strapped Cathedral.
Cathedral leaders were outspoken advocates of Civil Rights. Yet the stories told in the Cathedral’s iconography were heavily influenced by the people who built and paid for them. In the early history of this House of Prayer for All People, there were few opportunities for Black people to see themselves reflected in the building. That started to change in the 1980s, with the addition of carvings to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and civil rights heroine Rosa Parks.
In 2015 and again in 2017, the mass shooting in Charleston, S.C., and the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., brought the Lee-Jackson windows into focus at the Cathedral. When then-Cathedral Dean Gary Hall learned of these windows, and that they included the same Confederate battle flag embraced by white supremacists, he called for their removal. In 2016, the Confederate flags were cut out of the windows, replaced by small panes of clear blue and red glass.
In 2017, the windows were returned to their secular status and removed. “The removal of the Lee-Jackson windows this day serves as a testament of the Cathedral’s commitment to furthering God’s kingdom of the beloved community,” Dean Randy Hollerith told the small crowd, "where the divisions of race and color, North and South, segregation and separation exist no more.” But changing windows is one thing; changing hearts and minds is something altogether more important.
Northwest view of Washington National Cathedral (2020) by Washington National CathedralWashington National Cathedral
When Cathedral leaders turned to the question of replacements for the Lee-Jackson windows in 2020, America was in the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic and facing a moment of moral reckoning.
Voyager (1992) by Kerry James MarshallNational Gallery of Art, Washington DC
Kerry James Marshall
A special committee was formed to research artists; they reached out to Kerry James Marshall, a MacArthur “Genius” Grant recipient and one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People.” Marshall’s paintings depict the dignity and small joys of everyday Black life.
The Committee never imagined the artist would say "yes"
Marshall’s art sells for millions of dollars. When asked about a fee, Marshall offered, "eighteen sixty-five." $18,000? $18 million? “No,” he said. “Eighteen dollars and sixty-five cents.” It was a symbolic nod to the end of the Civil War and a chance to tell a different story.
Work on the windows began with craftsman Andrew Goldkuhle
This was Marshall’s first stained glass project, his first work in a religious space, and one of his few projects to remain on permanent public display. He met with Andrew Goldkuhle, a second-generation Cathedral artisan tasked with fabricating Marshall’s vision into glass.
All stained-glass windows begin with a “cartoon,” or sample drawing. Once the sketch was approved, Marshall transferred the cartoon to a paper canvas that mirrored the actual size of the windows. Back at his home studio, Goldkuhle cut each piece of glass, tracing each piece from Marshall's design. Together, the four lancets contain between 800 and 1,000 individual slivers of glass. The process for assembling a stained glass window requires hundreds of hours of skilled craftsmanship to execute.
Now and Forever Windows (2023) by Kerry James MarshallWashington National Cathedral
Two years later...
...the windows, titled "Now and Forever," are installed in the Cathedral's Nave.
Left side lancets, Now and Forever windows (2023) by Kerry James MarshallWashington National Cathedral
The window feature a procession of unnamed figures demonstrating for fairness. They are all Black. Their clothing is casual yet colorful. They are clearly marching somewhere, but their destination is as unclear as their identities. Fairness is the first step toward justice.
Right side lancets, Now and Forever windows (2023) by Kerry James MarshallWashington National Cathedral
No Foul Play
The most striking aspect of the design is the bold white signs calling for “Fairness” and “No Foul Play.” As Marshall explained it, even children know what foul play looks like. And if you've been treated fairly, you feel like you've been treated justly.
Now and Forever (2023) by Kerry James MarshallWashington National Cathedral
Looking at all four lancets, we notice a gradation from red at the bottom to blue at the top, suggesting a vertical and upward transformation from a heated discourse - as symbolized by the hues of red - to a coolheaded approach - as symbolized by the hues of blue.
Now and Forever
"As beautiful as these new windows are, they remain a symbol. Our challenge, and our opportunity, is what we intend to do with it. Symbols are only as potent as the action they prompt us to take." (Canon L. Hamlin, Sr.) To continue this journey, visit cathedral.org/windows