Recent events at my studio and across the world remind me of what the Russian novelist Dostoevsky wrote, “Truth and beauty will save the world.”
Truth and beauty are powerful forces to counteract fear. By strange coincidence, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine happened at the same time we brought back to life the Firebird window, after working on it for half a year.
The Firebird story began for me in 1988 when a friend gave Anne and me the book, “Land of the Firebird: The Beauty of Old Russia” by Suzanne Massie. This was the height of the Cold War, but it made me realize that Russia was not just a land of men in KGB trench coats. I have come to know many great people from Russia and I can’t imagine all the Russian people truly support Putin’s war.
The Firebird myth is important in Slavic and Russian folktales and has many versions. The one that set me on a path to explore Russia was this:
In old Russia, there was a young lady who made beautiful and wonderful weavings and embroidery. Her works were loved and prized by many who saw them. There was an evil prince who wanted her weavings and decided he would find her and bring her to his country.
He took the form of a black bird and changed the woman into a beautiful firebird. He forced her to fly with him, to go with him to his country. The woman was incredibly sad and depressed, she did not want to go, and while they flew, she dropped her beautiful feathers, and eventually as the last feather dropped to the earth, she died.
All that remained of the beautiful firebird were her feathers, scattered upon the earth and mixed with the leaves of the forest. The feathers are magical and those who seek them among the leaves will find truth and beauty in all their endeavors.
Like the feathers veiled in the forest, part of what covers truth and beauty are lies and fear, like those being spread by Putin and his regime.
In 1994 we built a park in Vladivostok, Russia, with seven students from Russia, seven Americans, and one student from Mexico. This began our Pacific family and gave birth to the Pacific Rim Park Organization which promotes peace and understanding among cultures of the Pacific. Eventually, six more parks were built in the United States, China, Mexico, Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan. And plans are underway for more.
In 1998 I was invited to do an art show in Moscow at the Shusev Central Museum of Architecture. I was going to bring the Firebird window I had designed, but due to circumstances, it got stuck in Findhorn, Scotland. Findhorn loved the window and it remained on display in their Resource Center for twenty-four years. The building and window were destroyed by fire in January of 2021, and Findhorn approached us about making the same window. Luckily, our glass craftsman, Cindy Mushet-Shriver, found the original pattern for the window. Cindy and Dan Thoner, our wood smith, and John Wheelock, our blacksmith, were able to rebuild the window and frame.
Why did the window come back to life at the same time that Putin began his war of utter destruction on the Ukrainian people? And why did I come back to the words of Dostoevsky that “beauty will save the world?”
The Russian author understood that truth and beauty are tools of hope that push back on fear such as that which Putin is sowing in the world right now. I, too, see a connection between these things. Beauty will always bring the good and the true. When things are really bad, only truth and beauty can save the world.
— James Hubbell