Over time the vision for what the barn space should started to become clearer– it would be a sculpture studio, and a summer painting studio for large scale work, and on its walls I would hang paintings. It would also store all the tools I’ve collected over time.
Just before work on the interior began I was introduced to an eminent architect– Frank Cheney. Frank has had an illustrious career, working for I.M.Pei and Charles W. Moore, as well as Cambridge Seven and Associates. In grad school at Yale he was Teaching Assistant to Vincent Scully. Now he heads his own firm in Greensboro.
Frank asked to see the barn I’d told him so much about, so I invited him down for dinner and a look. It was his first visit to the farm, so we walked around the place, the garden and the studio, and then stepped into the barn. I told him about my plans for the space’s layout and he suggested that there might be a better way to structure the interior spaces. While I put the finishing touches on dinner, Frank sat down at my desk. Without a second look at the structure he drew a plan, freehand, in perfect proportion, incorporating his new ideas.
My first stubborn reaction was to cling to my old notions, but sanity ruled and very quickly I released them and yielded to the genius of Frank’s plan. In a couple of days I was ordering more windows and revisiting everything with the builder. The humble cotton barn, wracked with age, rescued by a 17 year old, bearing second hand windows, was about to enter a new phase. It was moving toward clarity and functionality. But best of all, it was moving toward the divine.
Through friendship with the sculptor Tom Sachs I’d become intrigued with the idea of the studio as a sacred space. Tom put out an amazing film called Working to Code. It’s an instructional video for his studio assistants which is both tongue-in-cheek and very serious. In it he refers to the studio as sacred space. The film’s illustration of sacred space is three women waiting on the curb for a Muslim counterfeit handbag salesman , who is kneeling on the sidewalk on a scrap of cardboard, occupied with his prayers. At our first meeting a couple of years ago the first thing Tom and I discussed was the way work was a conduit to the divine. He quoted, at the time, the Benedictine maxim “to work is to pray”.
Frank and I never discussed this, but from his intuitive and experiential wisdom he invoked the sacred space archetypes in this humble barn. He urged me to admit the light from the north and east by adding more windows high up on the walls. He redesigned the storage so it emphasized the verticality of the space and created a focal point for the room. The 130 year old church shutters moved to this focal point, where I’ve been wrestling to make their 378 moving parts (I counted) line up and act right.
On a brief visit a couple of weeks ago to the Turchin Center at Appalachian I saw an exhibition based on research about sacred spaces. The wall text asserted that there were three characteristics shared by nearly all sacred spaces. A sacred space is:
-a place where an individual finds solace.
-a space free from distraction which allows inward reflection.
-a place of rejuvenation and inspiration.
I know that now, since Frank’s plans have been made real. When I am in the barn I do not want to go back to the house. And when I am in the house I want to get back out to the barn. It has become the most compelling space in several thousand square feet of spaces. It is where I can go to greet my truest and best self.
Thank you, Mr. Cheney.