C.H. Friends meetinghouse gets NEA grant

    The Chestnut Hill Friends Meeting has received a financial boost to help make its new meetinghouse a memorable space: a $75,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

    The new meetinghouse will include an installation by contemporary American artist James Turrell, whose work deals primarily in light and space.

    He’s known for creating Skyspaces – simple rooms with an aperture in the ceiling through which viewers observe the ever-changing sky. Such a Skyspace will be incorporated into the new meetinghouse, set to be completed in April of 2013 near the current meeting house at the intersections of East Mermaid Lane and Germantown Avenue.

    James Bradberry of Bryn Mawr is the architect of the $6 million project. Because both meetinghouses and Turrell’s Skyspaces are inwardly focused and simple in design, he says, “To some degree, there wasn’t much to incorporate. The big difference is the hole in the ceiling – here in Philadelphia, we don’t live in the most benign climate in the world.”

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    Indeed, on a day like today (pouring rain, whipping winds) the hole would be covered. Bradberry says his team is working with an engineering firm that specializes in retractable sports stadium roofs to combat inevitable climate issues.

    On working with Turrell, Bradberry says, “He’s the most humble famous person I’ve ever met in my life. A humble genius of sorts.”

    That, after all, is the Quaker way – and Turrell is, in fact, a Quaker.  He’s donating his services to the project; the grant will help cover the cost of the engineering related to the Skyspace.

    Turrell created a similar Skyspace-equipped meetinghouse in Houston, a project which was featured in an hour-long PBS documentary about his work.  You can watch it here.

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