The spirit of the Maine coastline lives in the heart of Manhattan
Photos from Nevelson Chapel’s recent trip to Rockland, Maine and the Farnsworth Art Museum:
On August 7, Louise Nevelson will be celebrated in a reception in her girlhood home of Rockland, Maine. The Farnsworth Art Museum has graciously cared for the Trinity Columns that have been removed from Chapel of the Good Shepherd during its engineering renovation this summer.
On this night, we will pause to appreciate the indelible connection Nevelson drew between two places so different from one another. It’s yet another reminder of how Nevelson defied concepts of difference to bring us to the heart of our humanity, and find ourselves surprisingly at home. In these days of division, it is a message most needed and most welcome.
Louise (née Berliawsky) Nevelson—icon of Modern Art, and creator of the sculptural environment genre—found an adopted home in Rockland, Maine, where her parents brought her from her native Ukraine as a child. From this small but closely-knit Jewish community not unlike those of the old country, she journeyed to New York City, and into a life of international renown as a sculptor, creating at the pinnacle of her career, her masterwork: Chapel of the Good Shepherd, 1977 (Nevelson Chapel).
In this age of virtual presence and digital connection, Nevelson Chapel at Saint Peter’s Church in Manhattan reminds us that human connection is real, tangible, and timeless. Human beings have always carried pieces of their lives with them from place to place, cross-pollinating, and bridging chasms of difference to bring us back, with humility, to our common human bond.
Nevelson Chapel is not the steepled, clapboard building that may first come to mind. Yet it carries within it the soul of such a chapel, nestled within the base of a soaring skyscraper, as if to bind any pretense of grandeur to a common root.
The Chapel offers a place of quiet respite from the rush of city life. Nevelson’s desire was to offer its visitors an “oasis” to “break away from limitations” to glimpse “eternal happiness” through “the unconditioned realization of the self.”
It is as though Nevelson carried deep memories of her childhood in Maine, and deposited them, using the simple wooden materials she once might have found discarded by her father, imbuing them with the personal experiences that connected her with her own sense of shared humanity.
In its simple lines, pure white contours, flashes of gold, like the glint of the sun—this environment forms a connection that transcends time and place. Instantly familiar and infinitely transporting, speaking in the language of the soul.
After years of wear, the Chapel is now being lovingly restored and its beauty conserved for future generations. Those who know well Maine’s cool forests and rocky coasts understand deeply the gift the renewal of this masterwork of human connection offers to the world.