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A tiny gem robbed of its stained glass

A tiny gem robbed of its stained glass
Interior Decorating
Never miss a chance.
It is no secret that the former Chicago Theological Seminary building is a favorite subject of mine. So it should come as no surprise that, while in Chicago for a wedding the weekend last, I made a few images in the old place. It now houses the Milton Friedman Institute. Many quips about how holy Friedman’s ideas are to the University of Chicago have undoubtedly been made during the transition. The interior spaces within the building are cartoonishly beautiful and, in light of recent modifications made to the building, I am particularly glad to have had the chance to photograph here over the past years. At the time, I felt like I was sticking a little close to the beaten path of my previous work, specifically I worried with such limited time if I was using it to its fullest. Knowing now that this place is changing dramatically for the first time in ages, I feel like I unwittingly used the opportunity to its fullest. Don’t miss a chance even if the subject be one well covered.
My relationship with religion and religious buildings.
I won’t mince words. Religious thought as a method for understanding our objective world has been obsolete for centuries. We have shown what some of our ancestors must have long suspected: that scripture contains little if any objective truth. Scientific study of religion, religious peoples and religious culture, I believe, remains a fertile ground for understanding human psychology, etc. If I can point to any one remnant of the religious edifice as remaining highly valuable artistically and culturally, it is just that – the buildings. I’m a sucker for great (especially Gothic and neo-Gothic) architecture and, over the last few centuries, religious institutions along with the academy have been our sole source thereof. Secularists should be able to separate the culturally valuable remnants of religion from any adherence to dogma or belief in mythology. I found it very sad, then, to learn that in its purchase and renovation of the Chicago Theological Seminary’s building, the University of Chicago, finding the beautiful glass panels throughout the chapels "inappropriate" for the buildings new use, removed all but a few of these works of art in the name of propriety. I remember these richly colored stained glass panels and, as no fan of religion, I can safely say they were quite beautiful. So, while I still think a University fit to be the steward of an architecturally triumphant religious building, I worry that poor decisions can be and are being made with regard to the value of the building’s decoration.

The first image on this post and the following two were taking in the Hilton Chapel on the southern end of the building. To get there, one takes the corridor on the right of the photograph above. Past the weary, gray steps are the columns and entrance to what, I’ve read, the AIA Guide to Chicago calls a "tiny gem," the Hilton Chapel. A tiny gem this place is indeed. The entryway is stunning, two columns and a small portico with arched windows and (formerly) leaded stained glass guarded the entry into the chapel proper (scroll to the end of this post to see what this shot looks like without HDR). I could lose myself for hours poking my head into doorways and hallways, trying to find new angles on the intricate and highly decorated Gothic buildings throughout the City Gray. Whenever I find a new spot it is like meeting an old friend for the first time. The theme, the mood, the feelings may be the same, but that a place at once so old but so new to me is opened up is one of the principle joys of carrying a heavy camera around tight hallways and up stone steps.
The inside of the chapel is tiny indeed, but beautiful. In my mind, this is the little church in which Romeo and Juliet were wed. It isn’t unusual for me to find students studying away in all the nooks and crannies of these many buildings, wrapped up from the cold in a scarf and a thick coat, but here I was surprised to find no one at all. What a wonderful little spot this would be to grab a book and find some quiet time! Here the loss of those stained glass icons is plain to see. The room is flooded with light, but the cold white of the windows is a reminder of what beautiful colors once played there. What a wonderful spot this would make for a very small wedding!

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