Waco artist leads Austin synagogue to healing though art

After an arson attack on Congregation Beth Israel, the "ner tamid" was created using restored pieces of stained glass. Photo Courtesy of Bryant Stanton

By Kalena Reynolds | Reporter

The stained glass that hung in an Austin synagogue before being damaged in an arson attack has been repurposed into an ethereal lamp. Titled “ner tamid,” which is Hebrew for eternal light, the piece was created by Waco stained glass artist Bryant Stanton and his team.

Stanton was called to help with the restoration project after the arson attack on Congregation Beth Israel left the stained glass windows irreparable.

“Originally, the synagogue wanted us to repair the glass, but after assessment, we learned that the glass was too damaged,” Stanton said. “We didn’t have a set plan. It was like picking out flowers for a flower arrangement. We tried multiple things and wanted to see what worked best.”

During the yearlong creation of “ner tamid,” Stanton said his team poured their emotions into the piece to configure what it meant as a symbol.

“We carved Genesis 1:3 into one of the pieces,” Stanton said. “We wanted it to bring healing, and there were a lot of emotions that occurred while making it because of that.”

Laura Corman, past president of Congregation Beth Israel, has been a member of the synagogue since 1990 and oversaw the restoration project.

“Beth Israel is where my closest friends are from,” Corman said. “It is where I spend my time. It is where I devote my energy. My daughter was raised there. I have photographs of her when the new preschool was built. This is our home.”

Corman said it was painful for herself and other members of the synagogue to come to terms with what happened to their place of worship. She commuted from Austin to Waco during the creation process, working with Stanton and his team to craft the “ner tamid.”

“He just kept working at it,” Corman said. “He took our shattered glass and found a way to fuse it together. And he’s worked with fused glass forever, but this is a really funky kind of ’60s glass, and it didn’t really melt well. The first time he fused the glass, it looked like Where’s Waldo’s socks.”

After experimenting with the particular type of glass, Stanton and his team found a way to make flames out of the remnants. They added new glass to help with shape, and they experimented to figure out where each shard would fit best.

“There were over 30 or 35 individual flames created by Stanton, and each flame took over 24 hours to create,” Corman said. “I believe that infused in our glass is love and passion. The beauty is the glass, of course … but how it became beautiful was Bryant’s desire to help Beth Israel heal.”

During the installation of the piece in the synagogue, Stanton said members would pass by and congregate. At the end, they sang a song that represented “thanksgiving.”

“The song was almost ethereal,” Stanton said.

Corman said the “ner tamid” helped the whole community in its healing process.

“Month after month, for me, it was healing just to be able to go through the process and sit and see the drawings that were getting made,” Corman said. “For the congregation, I think as they were seeing pictures as we went along, I think it was exciting what the possibility was, and it was really uplifting for the congregation.”