Cappy Thompson (American, born 1952), Stars Falling on Alabama: We Are Enraptured by the Celestial Fireworks of the Muses, 2005, vitreous enamel on glass, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts Association Commission, 2006.2
Stars Fell on Alabama
On the nights of November 12 and 13, 1833, a dramatic meteor shower occurred in North American that came to be known as “the night of raining fire” or “the night the stars fell.” The celestial show was so dramatic that many believed it to be an omen portending the end of the world. This event provided the themes for a book and song in 1934, each titled “Stars Fell on Alabama,” a phrase that also inspired the title of Thompson’s commissioned window for the Museum in 1999–2000.
In the window, the center panel is the primary element of the composition, featuring an encounter between earthly and heavenly creatures. A host of celestial beings – winged muses and personifications of the sun and moon – shower artistic inspiration in the form of fireworks on the figures below, who draw, make music, or simply marvel at the heavenly wonder. Muses, or personifications of inspiration, float above while in the foreground a group of stargazers sit under a quilt. Each quilt square has an image that is taken from a painting, sculpture, or porcelain from the Museum’s permanent collection.
Specific to Montgomery are the magnolia trees and people. Thompson has also included two self-portraits: the seated artist painting the scene, and the muse in the orange colored gown holding a tambourine. The artist in the center panel is working on a painting within a painting, with fireworks over a dome similar to the one here at the Museum in Blount Cultural Park.
The two flanking windows contain groupings of figures that are representative of Montgomery’s diverse population and culture. On one side, a man and a child gesture toward the center window event, while in the other, musicians play in celebration of a sky raining stars.
The Artist in the Window
The Studio Glass Movement is centered in Seattle, Washington, and Cappy Thompson is one of the stars of this movement of artistic expression. Thompson began her career as an artist of stained glass in 1976, and she developed her reputation as a glass painter when she moved to Seattle in 1984 and began teaching at the Pilchuck Glass School in Standood, Washington. She is known internationally for her painted blown-glass vessels, mostly narrative sequences that illustrate her understanding of and reaction to myths and dreams. Her art centers on narrative–an individual mythology that she has constructed based upon her longstanding love of storytelling and fantasy.
Thompson takes advantage of the transparent, light-transmitting nature of glass to construct stories on the interior of vessels, like the one from the Museum’s permanent collection or in window-walls such as that found in the Museum’s Lowder Gallery. Her subjects convey visual “blessings” or wishes that she conceptualizes as narratives on the painted surface.