Art Beat: Through Hardship To The Stars

Jun 13, 2019

Detail of Sniedze Janson Rungis's winning LLA window design
Credit Sniedze Janson Rungis

The fight for women to get the right to vote will soon be remembered in glass in downtown Kalamazoo.

Sniedze Janson Rungis has won the Kalamazoo Ladies Library Association contest to design a work of stained glass. It commemorates the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the vote in the United States.

Rungis is a multi-media artist and poet who decided to try her hand in a new medium. Her winning design is called “Through Hardship to the Stars.” Marge Kars, a former president of the Ladies Library Association, was on the committee that chose the design.

“The Ladies Library Association was formed in Kalamazoo in 1852,” Kars says. “It started as a women’s reading group. There were four women who read to each other in each other’s homes. Gradually that evolved into a larger group of women reading to each other and sharing books. The Ladies Library Association eventually became the first lending library in the Village of Kalamazoo, until 1878, when the public library came into existence.”

Sniedze Janson Rungis in Riga, Latvia, with film director J. Streičs
Credit Courtesy Sniedze Janson Rungis

Along with lending books, the Ladies Library Association was also involved in charitable work. But Kars says from the beginning, it's focus remained the education of women. During the 19th century, women usually did not go beyond the fourth grade in school. As the lending services grew and the public library built its own building, the associations built its home at 333 South Park Street in 1878. That's where the new stained glass window will be installed.

Kars says the competition to design it was inspired by a Ladies Library Association member. She wanted a new window in the section added to the building in 2013 that would commemorate the 19th Amendment.

“We were given a donation and a challenge,” Kars says. “We told the artists we would like to see yellow roses and we would like to see white and purple, because those are the colors of the suffrage movement. We gave them the names of four women within the organization who had a history of working in the suffrage movement.”

Kars says the association got 11 entries from ten women artists in and around Kalamazoo. The committee chose four as finalists, then all members voted on a favorite. They chose the design by Sniedze Janson Rungis.

“I would not have originally thought of entering the contest because I have not been a stained glass artist,” Rungis says. “But Jamie Rife, who is, came to me and suggested that I submit a design and then he would be willing to execute it. And right from the get-go, I felt very inspired.”

Rungis and Rife will work together to complete the window by the spring of 2020.

Rungis studied art at Western Michigan University and at the School of Art Institute of Chicago. Rife has a teaching degree in art and music from Western Michigan University.

The Ladies’ Library Association is accepting donations to help pay for the new stained glass window. It is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, so all donations are tax-deductible.

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