Stop 14 (The Chapel)

Chapel, ca. 1950

In 1942, Smith completed the work on this Chapel area.  Smith used his talents in stage and scene design to create this special space, one that appears larger than it is by the clever use of successive posts and screens, rendered in concrete. The Chapel is composed of three parts; an open room serving as the vestibule, a nave, and an altar at the southern end. The floor is composed of concrete pavers of varying sizes, rendered with stylized botanical motifs and birds. The east and west walls are decorated with a series of reliefs depicting the twelve “Stations of the Cross,” interspersed with depictions of saints and other religious figures.

The defining patterns in the vestibule are the layered rows of carved flowers surrounding a central relief of Christ. The image of the sunflower—along with other botanical elements--is utilized consistently through this complex: in metal on the entrance gates, carved into concrete as reliefs around doors, as rosettes to accent larger relief works, and even on the pavers.

The sunflower is considered a significant mythological plant in several cultures, most frequently referring to the sun and life. The sunflower, native to North America and later imported to Europe, was “revered” by the “Inca cultures of the Andes” as “the sacred symbol of the Sun God.” In China, the same flower represents longevity. In the Catholic Church, the sunflower signified a “devout striving towards God,” the deity represented by the sun itself.  The specific meaning that Smith sought by including multiple representations of the sunflower is not known, but certainly he believed, like others, that plants were “integral to the human relationship with nature…important components of art, music, ceremony, and symbolism,” and they should rightly be incorporated into the decorative elements of his artist’s colony.

As you continue down the walkway you will step into the courtyard. In addition to ping-pong and shuffleboard the artists played here, what other types of recreation do you think they participated in?

Chapel when new, 1941
Looking towards Chapel narthex, ca. 1945