Chestnut Hill Skyspace artist awarded National Medal of Arts

James Turrell, creator of the Skyspace light installation at a Quaker meetinghouse in Chestnut Hill received the National Medal of Arts on Monday. President Barack Obama presented the lifetime achievement award to the artist for his groundbreaking bodies of work. 

It is the highest award bestowed upon artists by the United States government.

The honor is well deserved, said Signe Wilkinson, Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting’s Skyspace Host.

While Quakers believe all are equal in the eyes of God, “some are born with special and different gifts. His are magical. He sees things no one else sees and gets them to see it too,” Wilkinson remarked.

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Turrell, 71, is an Arizona-based artist who works with light, space and time to explore the psychology of perception. He is best known for his site-specific works, such as the Roden Crater and numerous Skyspaces located throughout the world.

“Greeting the Light”, at CHFM, is his 76th Skyspace and the second to be located within a Quaker meetinghouse.

“In this time when we are rightly worried about food for the starving in America, I am also interested in food for the soul,” Turrell said. Creating a Skyspace for CHFM provided opportunity to express himself in that way, he added.

About the award

The National Medal of Arts is given in recognition of individuals or groups for outstanding contributions to the arts in the United States. Only 12 are awarded each year, and honorees are selected by the National Endowment for the Arts.

“Whether it’s animation or architecture, writing or music, these artists’ creativity and passion have made an enormous impact on our nation,” NEA Chairman, Jane Chu stated in a press release.

The President bestowed the 2013 National Medal of Arts to two others, besides Turrell, with a connection to Philadelphia. Recipients Bille Tsein and Tod Williams, are the husband and wife architect team behind the new Barnes Foundation building on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Past honorees with Philly ties include Philadanco’s Joan Myers Brown. architect Laurie Olin, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and Walker Hancock, the designer of Pennsylvania Railroad World War II Memorial at 30th Street Station.

Wilkinson says she believes Turrell’s receipt of the prestigious award will generate curiosity, bringing more visitors to CHFM’s Skyspace.

Since opening last October, CHFM estimates that approximately 3,000 guests have come to see the work of art.

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