Broken glass – Robert Sower’s window at JFK Airport’s American Airlines terminal

Living for so many years in NYC, I had more than my share of opportunities to check out the Robert Sower’s window at JFK Airport’s American Airlines terminal. It is – was – truly  an architectural masterpiece and a piece of Modernism that never lost its glory.

As an entry point to NYC and America for many millions of flyers, it spoke philosophically of the American spirit, its artistic soul and its ability to make the seemingly impossible possible. As a piece of art, I love this thing. Just the thought of it evokes a specific image, a specific feel, the sound of endless traveling shoes tapping their way back and forth beneath it, heedless of the complexity that threw those pools of light across the linoleum.

Now it’s gone, its impermanence proven. Or it’s going, at least, as reported across the nation and against the best efforts of the good folks at Save America’s Window, a nonprofit group that sought to raise enough money to keep the thing intact. They had until mid-September last year to come up with the do-re-mi. They fell short.

“The Cathedral,” as it was known, was built in 1960 when American Airlines opened its brand new terminal at what was then Idlewild Airport, now JFK.

The architect that was chosen for the project, one Robert Sowers, was widely considered America’s greatest stained-glass artist of the Modern era. His design for the terminal at Idlewild won him worldwide fame, got him listed in the Guinness Book of World Records, and made an undeniable statement about the expansiveness and creativity of Modern architecture. He loved the window and loved what it stood for. Millions of people agreed.

The window is now gone, dismantled and scattered throughout the nation – panes of glass will be shipped to different American Airlines offices across country. Who knows if there will be any left or what will become of it. There was even a quickly derided and derailed plan to make the glass into keychains for employees.

Save America’s Window did its best to get a sponsor behind the project, but many museums said it would be too hard to keep the piece intact. I don’t believe that – I’ve been in the new MoMA and it’s a massive space – and think it’s a crying shame that the window is coming down, piece by piece, a Diaspora of red, blue, white and clear glass.

Often, when traveling through JFK, the airport was so hectic to get into or out of that the only respite I was given, the only moment of Zen in the vast cattle yard that that airport often is, was when I could walk out and see the sun streaming in distinct blades through those colored panes, or reflecting the light of night time, reminding me I had indeed just come home. It was always an especially charmed feeling in a city that has a unique ability to convey charm in the most unexpected places, at the most unexpected moments. Unfortunately for all of us, this once-reliable charm is no more.
Goodbye to the Sower’s window and goodbye to a distinct American art treasure.

Noah Fleisher