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Where the Stars Meet the Sea

by Barbara Hosein.

“Where the Stars Meet the Sea,” is my Bicentennial installation covering the years 1819-1900 at the Unitarian Church of All Souls. It will be on permanent display at the church through November, 2019.

When I tried to imagine how to represent the Unitarian congregation of the 19th century, the members seemed so distant that I thought of them as stars. Learning that one of the founders was a shipbuilder drew me to a nautical theme. “Where the Stars Meet the Sea” is a sky map of New York City on the evening the charter was signed, November 15, 1819. The founders would have been able to look south toward New York harbor and clearly see the constellations. To the left was Cetus, the Whale, an auspicious foreshadowing of our most famous member of the 19th century, Herman Melville. White silk ribbons contain 800 names I was able to find from founding documents, histories of the church, pew records, and other sources. But thousands of other names were never recorded. Silver jigsaw puzzle pieces sailing in the night sky stand in for them.

The defining event of this era was the Civil War. “Where the Stars Meet the Sea” alludes to this rupture, the Ship of State nearly going asunder. The indigo cotton cloth of the uniforms of the North contrasts with the gray of the constellations. At All Souls Church, alignments were not clear-cut: many members were “merchants with interests in the South,” and abolitionists were few. But on the Sunday after the firing on Fort Sumter, the congregation sang the national anthem. Members galvanized around the preservation of the Union and the founding of the Sanitation Commission which became the Red Cross. These eighty years saw the transition from sails to steam, from hand sewn to the sewing machine, from handwritten to the typewriter. “Where the Stars Meet the Sea” represents this period of great change and a church that shaped the growth of New York City.

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