Good news came recently, with the approval from the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission, allowing the Louise Nevelson Chapel of the Good Shepherd at St. Peter’s Church to move forward with initial phases of construction for the renewal project.
“This phase in a project timeline is always detail focused. In order to ensure every component is put into production to match original conditions and specified requirements, you have to verify every single detail.
No “t” is too small to cross, no “i” too insignificant to dot. For projects like these there is just one time to get it right, and so we are reviewing everything from door hardware to piping runs.” — David Hottenroth, AIA, Nevelson Legacy Council
Above and below, Surface Consolidation Summer 2016
Long-term damage of the Chapel was widespread. Over the years, chemical reaction of water-soluble paint being applied over her original alkyd paint produced flaking, deterioration and discoloration. Caretakers of Nevelson’s work in the chapel followed her guidelines ~ not knowing the future consequences. The good news is that because the care taking did not involve sanding her work down to the wood, it preserved Nevelson’s original paint ~ valuable for research and artistic preservation.
Above image, Environmental Management.
The Louise Nevelson Chapel of the Good Shepherd has been undergoing a four-phase restoration process. It began with the stabilization of flaking paint and protecting areas most sensitive to HVAC damage. The restoration moved on to securing the sculptures in advance of the work, modernizing windows and the skylight, installation of properly directed ductwork and lighting, replacing the ceiling, and installing a dedicated HVAC/humidification unit outside the Chapel isolation zone.
Above, Ethics and Paint
Phase 3 is now underway, which addresses paint damage, removing non-Nevelson paint and the conservation of original paint, as well as providing for future conservation and research. This phase also includes the development of cultural and educational programming.
Above and below, Restoring the Lintel and Columns
Step three presents particular challenges. It addresses nevelson’s original paint, now stretched in many areas. Additionally, this alkyd paint is changing color with exposure to air and light, and has not yet settled. Conservators continue to tone the work for consistent coloration.
The final phase, Phase 4, is in the planning stage. It will include endowing the Chapel to provide funds for its upkeep, and shining a light on the artists’ ground-breaking work. This phase will also include providing opportunities for contemporary artists.
At present, the Chapel, which is a small room just off the main entrance to St. Peter’s Church, has much work yet to be done. We were given a peek inside, now lined with scaffolding and protective paper and plastic.
Each pieces of artwork, removed to be cleaned and restored, then returned to the chapel walls (above and below).
In the meantime, one finished piece and a cardboard model of what we can expect once the chapel is completed, sits in an adjacent office where we were fortunate to visit in mid June, 2019 (below).
Of the Nevelson Chapel’s many pieces, Grapes and Wheat Lintel is in the poorest condition and presents the most challenges for conservation. The piece continues to undergo active research and regular work by conservators from The Objects Conservation Studio and labs at Pratt Institute.
Below ~ the beautiful St. Peter’s Church.
The Nevelson Chapel, a comprehensive sculptural environment in the heart of Saint Peter’s Church, is located at 619 Lexington at 54th Street, NYC.