Morning Star

O star, the fairest one in sight,
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud . . .
— Robert Frost

It is the fairest one in sight, and also the largest. And it’s lofty, hanging from the vaulted ceiling of the atrium of the new Priscilla Payne Hurd Academic Complex, which opened in October.

But it’s not obscured by clouds. That’s just poetic license.

The atrium is mostly glass, and the imposing Moravian star, which weighs more than 800 pounds, has a surprisingly airy feel. Sunlight turns it into a jewel. At night, 35 halogen spotlights criss-cross it with their beams.

Dan Kainz, the sculptor who designed it, was born into a family of stonecutters and is best known for monumental granite pieces around the Allentown area where he lives. It was his task to apply himself to the problem of analyzing the Moravian star, farming out the glass and metal components to various artisans, and supervising their assembly and the final hanging.

A Moravian star is known as a rhombicuboctahedron, says mathematics professor emerita Doris Schattschneider: a three-dimensional faceted object whose core comprises 18 squares and eight isoceles triangles. The rays of the star are the elongated facets of these squares and triangles.

During the process of construction, there was nothing light or fragile about the glass star. Each of its 26 points became the tip of a square or triangular pyramid made of glass more than a quarter of an inch thick. The average weight of the pyramids was 15 pounds.

At Taylor Backes glassworks in Boyertown, where the pyramids were poured, they took shape in heavy graphite molds and then were seared by blowtorches until the thick molten glass cooled and hardened from white-hot to an apple-juice yellow. Only when fully cooled and annealed did the glass become transparent, and even then it was (and is) dotted with streaks and bubbles.

At Atlas Machining & Welding Inc. in Northampton, Pa., the pyramids were clamped to a stainless-steel armature strong enough to sustain half a ton. At full spread, it is 9 feet from the top to the bottom of its longest facets and 5 feet in diameter.

Just before the ribbon-cutting on October 18, the star and its halogen attendants were hung in place. And now it floats in glory in the entry hall of the College’s newest building—a perpetual metaphor of enlightenment.

At left, the star shines in place. Top, sculptor Dan Kainz displays the finished sculpture. Next, the stainless-steel armature is cut, and below, the armature is welded into its three-dimensional shape. Next, the glass pyramids are poured, and bottom, Kainz assembles the star’s glass and steel components.

Photos: Michael P. Wilson