Dominican University, Saint Catherine Benincasa Chapel and Light of the Spirit

Submitted by Elizabeth Devereaux

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Client: Dominican University

Location: San Rafael, CA, United States

Completion date: 2010

Artwork budget: $60,000

Project Team

Architect

Mohamad Sadrieh

Mohamad Sadrieh Architects

Art Consultant

Rod Teissere Stephens

Sacra Forma

Artist

Elizabeth Devereaux

Elizabeth Devereaux Architectural Glass

Industry Resource

John Mullinax

Devereaux Architectural Glass

Industry Resource

Aaron Macomber

Devereaux Architectural Glass

Industry Resource

Megan Macomber

Devereaux Architectural Glass

Overview

In one of her recent projects architectural glass artist, Elizabeth Devereaux, undertook the task of designing a contemporary work for a renovation of a 126-year-old mansion on the campus of her alma mater, the Dominican University of California. Conceptually, the piece posed a challenge. St. Catherine Benincasa Chapel was intended to be a space for both Catholic and Interdenominational worship. Devereaux needed to find a way to depict the idea of spirit without referring specifically to Christian imagery. This was accomplished with abstraction and symbolism. “Light of the Spirit” became the theme, reflecting the sense of spirit

Goals

The goal for the project was to create a design that not only represented the 21st century but also honored the historic setting of the site. Observing the existing four curved Victorian windows, it became clear the art glass would either have to be curved in the kiln or vertical lead lines would need to be incorporated into the design creating a segmented curve. Devereaux created a segmented curve with irregular spacing, enhancing visual interest. Another consideration was the existing horizontal mullions in the exterior glazing that cut the original double-hung windows in half. In order to diminish the visually dissecting effect, Devereaux decided to repeat the horizontal lines in the composition in varying thicknesses. Thus, the bones of the design were set.
Another challenge was the glare that comes through the west-facing windows in the afternoon. With the selection of deep flashed red glass, the glare was utilized to cast dramatic light projections throughout the space. This created a shifting light that is altered throughout the day and changing seasons. The small 24 karat kiln-fired pattern, weaving throughout the piece, represents iconic Marin County Mt. Tamalpais.

Process

The community played an integral role in the design process. Devereaux met with a group of Dominican alumni, faculty, staff and students to design the window for the St. Catherine Benincasa Chapel. She held a discussion with the committee where they shared their thoughts on the power and movement of their experiences with the divine. Interim Chair of the Art Department, Lynn Sondag, recalled the process as a memorable moment for the students; that will resonate with them as they experience the completed chapel.

Through continued discussion with the committee and the architect, the designs were refined. After the initial sketches and watercolors were discussed, prototypes and visual simulations were created to communicate clearly the overall impact of the final piece. These simulations and prototypes were later used in the fundraising process.

Devereaux acknowledges the importance of creating a relationship with her clients to truly create a space that suits their personal needs and aesthetic. Because of the personal history and connection Devereaux had with the University and design committee, she invited the committee to her studio in Chico for the final design presentation and a cocktail party at her and her husbands home in celebration.

Additional Information

The St. Catherine Benincasa Chapel has become a place where students find comfort and refuge from hardships. It uplifts the spirit and brings peace to those who seek the presence of the divine in their lives. The building has been said to glow, forming a beacon in the night. With her piece, Elizabeth Devereaux experienced a coming home to the college she attended and home she lived in over 40 years ago. She states, "This was a very personal commission, and so gratifying to be able to give back to those who taught me so well.