As the late morning sun shines into the sanctuary at the Gottesman RTW Academy in Randolph, the jewel tones in the stained-glass windows glow; some of the antique panels that are embedded in the windows seem to pulse with energy as the light moves while others throw a rainbow of colors onto the surrounding casements.
Designed by multimedia artist Lev Gal Wertman, 56, who lives and works in Randolph, the stained-glass windows will be dedicated in a ceremony on the evening of Tuesday, Dec. 11. They are part of a fund-raising initiative that has so far raised about $500,000, according to Naomi Bacharach, director of institutional advancement at the school.
Wertman, who completed the windows in about two-and-a-half years, is the parent of three boys at the pluralistic Jewish community day school.
The series of 12 small windows, collectively known as the Beena and Steven Levy Stained Glass Window Collection, offers a contemporary take on the story of creation.
Before even conceiving of the individual panes, Wertman studied the Chagall Windows at Hadassah Medical Center and the Mordecai Ardon Windows at the National Library of Israel, both in Jerusalem, as well as the windows in the 1887 Eldridge Street Synagogue in New York, the iconic Tiffany stained-glass clock at Grand Central Station, and the ceiling of John’s Pizza of Times Square, which contains an exquisite stained-glass window, a remnant of its former role as a church.
In considering the respective themes for each window at the school, Wertman also studied relevant works by such artists as Albrecht Durer, Vincent Van Gogh, and Piet Mondrian, along with contemporary visual and cultural references, the Torah text and interpretations, and modern science.
So, for example, for the image representing the separating of the waters, Wertman considered classical images, the science of water cycles, and even popular photos of surfing waves, along with the text. Together, they led him to an understanding of the process of depicting water as one that is happening all the time, all around us. “You know that 70 percent of the water in the world is all the time moving,” he said, underscoring that phenomenon because the work is in a school. “It was also important for me to bring this movement and to connect the windows to science and not only art.”
The antique glass in the windows came from the studio of fabricator, glass collector, and artisan Bonnie Hook of Georgia’s Stained Glass Werks in Rockaway, who fabricated the windows to Wertman’s specifications. The antique glass offers a texture not usually available in new sheets of glass, he explained.
The images in the windows range from tangible to more abstract, and they all include playful touches, or “secrets,” as Wertman likes to call them, designed to spark children’s curiosity or offer subtle life lessons. In a window depicting the creation of sea creatures, the fish all swim together in a school, except for one little red fish that swims in the opposite direction from its peers. “I’m trying to say it’s OK to try new things, to do things differently, and you are still part of the group,” said Wertman.
In the window depicting heaven and earth, the sun and the stars, there is a small triangle star. “The children, when they look at it, they will say, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’” said Wertman. “I want them to think maybe that’s the artist’s point of view, or maybe we just haven’t found [a triangular-shaped star] yet.”
Originally from Haifa, Wertman studied at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem and made a name for himself in the 1990s. His work has been exhibited at the Gordon Gallery in Tel Aviv, The Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp, the Regional Centre for Contemporary Art in France, The Jewish Museum in New York City, and the Documenta X in Germany.
Wertman moved to New Jersey just over three years ago with his wife, Shiri, and their sons, who are 11, 9, and 4.
The windows are for “sale” for $36,000 each; all but three are spoken for and proceeds benefit the school. Following the dedication, a limited number of signed lithographs of the series will be available for purchase.