Memories and Musings

Memories and Musings – On Windows

Alexandria City Hall framed by Palladian Window. (All photos: Nina Tisara)

Alexandria, VA – The redbud made me do it.

The idea for this column came to me last March when I looked out of my bedroom window and saw the young redbud tree. Some of you may remember my May 2020 column, “On Spring and Redbud Trees,” where I wrote about W. Caldwell Webb, aka Pop, an elderly gentleman I met in Paris, VA, who introduced me to redbud trees. (I am now older than he was then.)

I planted three bare-root redbud trees in my yard in memory of Pop, one of which survived and has gifted me with baby redbuds. I don’t consider myself a great gardener. My philosophy when I plant something is if it lives and grows, I separate it and plant part of it somewhere new. If it doesn’t make it, I console myself by thinking now there is space for something new.

I transplanted one of those baby redbuds when it was a couple of feet tall to where I could see it from my bedroom window. I even replaced the double-pane glass in that window because I was bothered by the moisture that had condensed between the panes.

That baby tree is now about 12 feet tall, enough to be seen from my bedroom window. (I might note here that the bottoms of the windows are five feet from floor level.) Watching it get ready to bloom is like a spiritual Advent for me.

Reproduction Rose Window. If you look carefully, you will see the Mama Redbud tree at the left.

I thought about photographing it but decided instead to write about it, which led me to muse about windows and their history. That way, I get to do some simple research on everyday things – like windows – and learn new stuff.

According to an article in the Night Helper Blog, windows have been around since people started building long-term places to sleep and stay warm. Windows were devised to keep out the cold and dangerous animals and dangerous people or to let the people inside look outside.

Before glass windows, most were simply a hole in the roof or wall. Later, animal skins soaked in oil, wood, and cloth were used, and in some parts of Asia, paper was used.

Today, I have a reproduction rose window in my home. Instead of bringing the outside in, I bought that piece of stained glass art to block out the view of my neighbor’s backyard. It called to me when I saw it in a shop window on King Street. So it would seem in addition to keeping in the warmth and keeping out dangers, windows are sometimes used now to draw people in!

It’s a long road from animal skins soaked in oil to stained glass windows, with many stops along the way.

The first use of glass by the Romans was around 100 BCE. They used it primarily for making windows, although it was also used for beads and ornaments. The early Romans produced thick casting blocks of glass. Artisans would then grind the glass to create the thin translucent surface that is common today. It’s unlikely anything could be seen through these windows, but glass production improved over time and by the 16th century, glass windows were relatively common in the homes of the wealthy.

Timber windows, created by layering wood sections with the grain of one section in the opposing direction to the grain of its neighbor, date back to then. Sliding sash windows were introduced as production techniques improved, and weighted sash windows by the end of the 17th century. The oldest surviving examples of sash windows were installed in England in the 1670s.

Shop window on King Street. Circa 1985.

Stained glass and rose windows have been a traditional part of church and temple architecture since the 7th century. How come? A number of reasons:

Light is a cherished symbol in many religions, representing purity, the heavens, spirituality, and genesis, and colored light is beguiling. Stained glass windows also provide more privacy than colorless windows. Stained glass windows were used to educate illiterate people who could learn Bible stories and religious teachings by looking at the painted scenes.

Scattered examples of decorated circular windows existed in the Romanesque period in the 10th century. The idea of creating a detailed decorative motif out of a round window surfaced In the middle of the 12th century.

It is late at night now as I sit at my computer pondering windows of many kinds. A thought popped into my head: the Microsoft Windows operating system was launched in 1985. I wonder whether the subliminal branding message was looking out – or letting in a kind of divine light – or some of each. Just a thought.

Mosaic Artist/Photographer Nina Tisara is the founder of Living Legends of Alexandria

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