It takes something special to get people to church on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. More than 7,000 came out for an open house at the Washington Cathedral, in celebration of its 75th anniversary. The day culminated with the dedication of sculptor Frederick Hart's massive stone tympanum "The Creation," which depicts mankind emerging from the void.
Visitors toured the cathedral and its grounds, marveling at the scale in hushed tones. Occasionally the reverent quiet was broken: A mother sharply reprimanded her young son, who was happily clambering on a huge pipe organ.
The massive new stained-glass windows glowed with electric colors as visitors milled about demonstrations of calligraphy, needlepoint and stone carving, watched films on the history of the cathedral, climbed the observatory tower to see the 10 bell ringers, or asked docents in square, purple Canterbury caps for directions.
"I think it's a powerful, beautiful sculpture," said docent Dorothy Rainey, directing people to the dedication site. "But I wonder if it will be controversial. People may object to all that nudity."
"Well, we were all nude when we were created," said Jack Aber, another tour guide. "We didn't have Christian Dior then." A screen of fine, white wires was visible in front of the sculpture, "to keep the pigeons off the newly created, I think," Aber whispered.
The St. Andrew's Pipers and Drummers, splendid in tartan kilts, headed the procession to the building's west front, where the National Symphony Brass Ensemble was playing under Hart's statue of Adam. The brief dedication ceremony was led by Bishop John T. Walker, who said, "We believe history will see this as one of the great works of art of the Western world."
After the crowd sang Haydn's hymn "Creation," Walker praised Hart, who is also creating the sculptural addition to Maya Ying Lin's controversial Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the cathedral's master carver Vincent Palumbo, who spent three years translating Hart's model into stone. Also present was C. Thomas Claggett Jr., who donated the stone for the sculptures. Claggett is a descendant of the Right Rev. Thomas John Claggett, the first bishop to be consecrated on American soil after the American Revolution and the first Episcopal bishop of Maryland, and made the gift in his ancestor's memory.
After the ceremony, Hart was surrounded by photographers and well-wishers. "Remember me? I was a model for one of those people," said Caroline Mayer, a lobbyist who lives in Cleveland Park. Mayer said she is "the woman at 2 o'clock in the sculpture , with her arm bent backward. Actually, she's me and probably a few other people. This has been a favorite building of mine for some time and now I'm kind of a part of it."
About 10 of Hart's relatives traveled from South Carolina for the dedication, including his aunt Essie Kelly, from Conway, S.C., who raised him.
"When Ricky Hart was about 15, he said, 'Aunt Essie, sit there in your chair for a minute,' and he did a crayon drawing of me," Kelly recalled. "And he did it just as he saw me, this sweet little old lady. Well, I thought it was so ugly I just rolled it up and put it in the closet. Of course, now that he's famous, I dug it out again," Kelly added with a laugh.