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'99 Names of God' and the glassmaker

Published: Saturday, July 10 2010 5:00 a.m. MDT

PROVO — Glass. It attracts fingerprints, invites dust and cracks under pressure.

While we're tiptoeing to the dinner table carrying Grandma's heavy tartan pitcher, Andrew Kosorok could literally consult a recipe and cook you up a fresh batch of glass. No problem.

He could then turn around and fashion, say, a custom-made stained glass window for you based on medieval designs. Or, if you are a European antiquities dealer, he could restore the damaged glass of a priceless piece.

Kosorok credits his 20-year long career in glass to his mother.

"I was 16 or 17 and lolling around the house during the summer. She said, 'Go do something!'" said Kosorok, 41. "So I took an art class."

He ended up graduating from BYU with degrees in sculpture. The pupil subsequently became the master: Kosorok currently teaches classes at BYU on stained glassmaking, sculpting and drawing fundamentals.

The owner of Glass Images in Orem, Utah, also offered him a job.

"He was tired of ringing me up all the time!" Kosorok joked. "He figured I could handle the till all on my own."

Kosorok is now the special projects manager for Glass Images, embarking on "really weird restoration projects," he said, as well as unique, faith-building opportunities such as restoring the windows of the Provo Tabernacle.

Kosorok admits that he has hurt himself a few times working with glass, but "never severed anything that didn't grow back."

When he's not spending time with his wife, Margaret, or their four children, he is working on a personal project that will take him more than three years to complete: producing 100 glass sculptures responding to the 99 Most Beautiful Names of God from the Qur'an.Islamic tradition holds Muhammad, founder of Islam and considered a prophet by Muslims, invoked God by a number of names. Those who know and believe in the names will get into paradise.The names include everything from "The Judge" to "The Gentle," inspiring Kosorok with the different images and feelings they conjure.

"I was also impressed, in general, by the similarities between Muslims and Mormons," he said.

Particularly as illustrated by Dr. Alwi Shihab and President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in a 2006 presentation at BYU called "Building Bridges of Understanding: The Church and the World of Islam."

"Muslims and Mormons both value the family. We both understand what it's like to be persecuted, to be brutalized by the media," Kosorok said.

Sculpting the 100 pieces is a massive undertaking, described for Kosorok by a phrase in Arabic that translates to "As God wants it."

"You can't force glass," he said. "It's not like watercolor where you can push it to do different things. Glass doesn't respond prettily when you force it. You have to listen to it, feel what it's trying to tell you."

He begins by absorbing information on a name, writing notes and composing sketches.

Each glass sculpture takes roughly 100 hours to make and is heavily influenced by Islamic art and theology.

"The Merciful," for example, has a structure based on basilicas, since the first mosques were converted basilicas, and eight panes of glass to represent the eight angels in the Qur'an that carry God's throne.

If he had to pick a favorite, Kosorok is fond of his first sculpture, "The Compeller."

"It tells one of my favorite stories, the story of Jonah, and how God kept compelling him to do the right thing," he said.

Response to Kosorok's project has been overwhelming. An Egyptian sheikh had one of his students send Kosorok translations; Zaytuna College in Calif., sent him books; and a university in Amman, Jordan, gave him a scholarship to study theology in regards to the 99 names.

"I think they are interested that this ignorant white boy from the U.S. is interested in their faith — and even more interested when they realize my interest is sincere," Kosorok said. "I received an email from a man in Pakistan who said, 'You are not a Muslim, but you respect my beliefs. Take your time and respond to what God is telling you.'"

Currently he has seven finished, five works-in-progress and 13 to complete before the end of December. He will complete about 25 every eight months until he reaches 100 works.

The finished sculptures are in the Special Collections Area of BYU's Harold B. Lee Library until Sept. 17. After that, the pieces will be moved to the Salt Lake Arts Center for the Interfaith Festival.

Ghulam Hasnain, president of Salt Lake American Muslim, told Kosorok that if his work proves worth the endeavor, he would help open doors.

"We could show the Muslims that people don't hate them," Kosorok said, "that different faiths can come together and find something to like about each other."

e-mail: eschmuhl@desnews.com

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