A Look at the Newly-Restored Nevelson Chapel

The Midtown enclave of Saint Peter's Church features abundant sculpture by Louise Nevelson.
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Photograph by Thomas Magno Photography

In 1977, New York City was on the brink of bankruptcy, and its infrastructure was crumbling. That same year, sculptor Louise Nevelson presented her vision for a chapel at East 54th Street and Lexington Avenue. First National City Bank and Saint Peter’s Church had just established a first-of-its-kind condominium, and together the unlikely pair set out to redevelop an entire city block, with the Nevelson Chapel at its heart. 

Today, Nevelson’s champions and supporters have created a Legacy Council to restore the chapel’s physical and artistic integrity and ensure its safekeeping for years to come, anchored by a $5.75 million campaign. The only remaining art environment created by Nevelson that is entirely intact and inhabitable, the chapel is a testament to her mastery of light and shadow and unparalleled sense of space and movement. It is her gift to New York City.

Louise Nevelson Lynn Gilbert

Behind the chapel’s renewal is a largely unsung upgrade to the infrastructure. Led by architect Jane Greenwood of Kostow Greenwood Architects, a team of engineers, lighting designers, and sustainability specialists have updated the HVAC system to meet museum-quality temperature and humidity standards, swapped a new LED-lighting system for the failing original, and implemented a plan to replace doors, hardware, windows, and a skylight. Meanwhile, Nevelson’s intricately crafted wooden wall sculptures, nicked in places and bearing discolored or flaked-off paint, are being carefully restored by art conservators. Visitors to the chapel can catch a glimpse of the work in situ, in addition to participating in events celebrating Nevelson’s legacy. 

At the time of the chapel’s construction, Nevelson said, “If people can have a moment of peace and carry it with them in their memory banks, then that will be a great success for me.” The success of this restoration effort is nothing less than passing on that moment of peace to the future. 

The print version of this article appears with the headline: Saving Grace.