Uchicago

Shelter from the storm

By Laura Demanski, AM'94

Seasons is the title of artist Libby Chaney’s fabric installation that currently graces Rockefeller Memorial Chapel (it will be up through March 3). So it was fitting that on February 1, the morning Chaney delivered the sermon at the chapel’s Sunday service, Chicago was in the middle of the fifth-biggest blizzard in its history.

The snow lay heavy over everything and was still falling hard. Living a half-dozen blocks from Rockefeller, I was happy to be close enough to reach the service on foot, and equally happy for a reason to venture out into the white, white world.

About 25 others were getting warm and dry inside the chapel, looking pleased to be there too. The service marked Candlemas, “time of lighting candles in the depth of winter, time of pausing at the halfway point between the winter solstice and spring equinox,” according to the bulletin I was given as I walked in. Elizabeth Davenport, dean of Rockefeller Chapel, led the congregation.

It was a service for the senses. For the eye, there were Chaney’s evocative, colorful wall hangings—hundreds of fabric scraps composed into scenes of spring, summer, fall, winter—and the chapel’s everyday glories. For the ear, the Rockefeller Chapel Choir sang In the Beginning, Aaron Copland’s 1947 choral setting of the Genesis story, in three parts. In between, prayers from Marian Storm’s Vigil at Candlemas (1928) resonated with the scene outside more than anyone could have anticipated:

My door latch is frosty—lilies of frost and palm leaves
moon-white cover the windowpane; yet I in the firelight keep
awake when under that iron crust the woodchuck drowses untroubled!
locked in his warm nest he is sound asleep.

In her sermon, Chaney spoke about all the seasons and how differently she came to think of each one after she and her husband moved from San Francisco to Cleveland recently, and in the process of making Seasons. Working on the piece in both places, she came to see spring as “full of amazing force,” the force of surging waters from the thaw and in “how powerful the shoots are that come up through the crust of the earth.” As for winter, she marveled at how Lake Erie shape-shifts under its influence. “Sometimes it looks like a patio of cut smooth rocks, sometimes it looks like a moonscape of round shapes, sometimes it looks like lace,” she said.

As I exited the chapel after the service, all I wanted to do was look and listen. The world that had transformed with the overnight snow seemed changed all over again.

Published on February 11, 2015 by The University of Chicago Magazine.

Libby Chaney with her work. Photo by Anne Ryan.