A window on wisdom

Stained glass art by Bruce David. Photo: Lisa Mandel

By Susan Fadem, Special to the Jewish Light

Q: When is a window more than a window?

A: When its not only a source of joy and new beginnings, but a call to more deeply examine and understand lifes choices.

The particular window in question, a seeming embodiment of the meaning of Rosh Hashanah, had fairly humble beginnings. While not exactly an Ugly Duckling, it was nonetheless bereft for years of much of its original intent.

Installed just before the Roaring ’20s, the arched window was among those along the back of a newly erected two-story Clayton mansion. As windows do, it brought sunlight inside, in this case from the windows position on the second-floor landing, and provided an outdoor view.


But somewhere in the homes lineage, a subsequent owner built a two-story addition. And instead of removing or otherwise altering the existing window, he left it intact but quirkily repurposed into something of a porthole into whats now a second-floor study.

Measuring about 3 feet wide by 5 feet high at its arched peak, the window might have remained that way if not for Dr. Mitch Rotman, who bought the house 16 years ago with his wife, Gina, a retired registered nurse.

Rotman, an orthopedic surgeon, is something of a Renaissance man, his multiple passions serving as a template for his exploration-minded family. Hes also a French horn player in the St. Louis Philharmonic Orchestra, a shofar blower since childhood in his native Wilmette, Ill., a longtime collector of art and connoisseur of music, and a member of Central Reform Congregation.

The Bible tells us it took seven days for God to create the world. For Rotman to gather his thoughts, prioritize projects and 

contact Bloomington, Ind.-based multimedia artist Bruce David, he needed eight years.

The two had met at an open house for David hosted by one of Rotmans neighbors, who had purchased some of Davids art.

Seized at the party by the idea that his window could be transformed into artwork, Rotman asked David for his business card. 

I was very surprised when Mitch phoned eight years later, David says.

Known for inspiring others to dream freely, Rotman summarized his wishes. He wanted a music-themed stained-glass window that had a frog, which he considers good luck. 

To show the artist the required size, Rotman used a large piece of corrugated cardboard to duplicate the windows dimensions and contour, then mailed his cutout to David.

Months passed. David sent sketches and drawings and then, after Rotmans approval, provided a full-scale layered cartoon version. 

Everything looked great,” Rotman says. “I couldnt believe how good it was.

To echo and amplify his clients interests, although he relegated the talismanic frog to the windows bottom left-hand corner, David turned to Psalm 92. Known as the Shabbat Psalm, it speaks of singing praises to the Lord with a harp and horn.

David, whose image-rich, textured and multicolored results  have been compared with the work of legendary Russian Jewish artist Marc Chagall, incorporated into the stained-glass window a French horn, shofars, guitar, cello and drums, as well as a keyboard that doubles as a roof on which the Hebrew letter aleph resembles a fiddler.

The Rotmans cello-playing daughter Sophia is a freshman at Washington University who may major in premedical studies. Her brother Sam, a senior at St. Louis Greenways Academy, an alternative school, began composing instrumentals for St. Louis-born rapper Chingy a few years ago.

David collaborated, as he does on all of his stained-glass pieces, with Louisville, Ky., resident Peter Eichhorn. A native of Germany, Eichhorn apprenticed there in his first glass studio. When David and Eichhorn work together, they concentrate on Eichhorns full-antique, hand-blown colored glass.

David is a self-described creative Jewish energy force who also composes music, devises educational programs and interactive animations that pair art and music, and still finds time to Skype by computer with classrooms of kindergartners. He chose every piece of glass for what has become the Rotmans‘ “Window of the Soul.

Together, he and Eichhorn painted, sand-blasted, etched and enhanced the glass. Eichhorn did the cutting.

Symbols abound in the stained-glass window, which David and Eichhorn installed recently on the Rotmans’ second-floor landing. Within the overall arched frame, the opened interior windows are in the shape of the Ten Commandments, topped by two faces. The mans is composed of palm trees and leaves. The womans is made up of buildings in Jerusalem. Waterfalls, Shabbat candles and a city built of instruments entwine.

Instead of hands, a reference to Rotmans professional specialty, David chose doves, also a whimsical reminder of what a bird in the hand is worth ’”

Rotman contacted local lighting designer Ken McKelvie to evenly illuminate the interior stained glass window.  McKelvie attached seven LED bulbs and two incandescent bulbs of differing intensities to an approximately 2-foot-long strip anchored several inches behind the stained glass and at window sill level.

No light is aimed directly at the stained glass, which McKelvie says would muddle its intricately wrought details. Rather, through backlighting, each painstakingly adjusted light shines on a different position and level of a  smooth white panel mounted behind the stained-glass artwork. Controlled by a switch in the study, the overall light then bounces back from the panel and through the stained glass.

The landings original window has been moved behind the complete stained-glass installation. That windows panes, now fronted by mirrors, face the office.

We did all this to bring out characteristics of each section of the stained glass, McKelvie says. When we got it right, suddenly the whole thing came alive.

From sculpted frogs on mirrors to vintage chandeliers, bronze hands and crazy stuff everywhere, Rotman says, his home scarcely lacks for eye-catchers. But for now, the stained-glass window remains his focal point.

The joy of living with it is fantastic,” Rotman says. “I just want to stand here. You cant stop staring at it and studying it.

Thats just what David intended. On Rosh Hashanah and year-round, the stained-glass window figuratively draws us to look and re-examine, both inwardly and at whats around us.