All Saints Episcopal Church, allow me to introduce you to Martha Graham’s Appalachian Spring

The way I understand art is through other art.  Like I don’t just look at something and say to myself, “Oh here we have a rare example of Midwestern Stick Style architecture from the 1880’s.”

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What I actually think is “Oh here we have an example of Martha Graham’s Appalachian Spring in the form of a building.”

I saw Martha Graham’s company perform Appalachian Spring at my job a dozen years ago.  (You can see the dance as performed in 1945, the year after it was created, with Martha Graham herself—in her 50’s!—dancing the role of the Pioneer Bride in the videos above).

The ballet tells the story of an American pioneer bride and groom staking a claim to homestead in the midwestern frontier.  Their idealism of their new life is tempered by a sober, more experienced pioneer woman and an alarmingly long-waisted preacher man with his adoring flock of young, female followers.

So what does Appalachian Spring have to do with All Saints Episcopal Church?  Hold on, I’m getting to that.

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All Saints Episcopal Church, in Chicago’s north side Ravenswood neighborhood, was built in an architectural style known as Stick Style. Architect John Cochrane designed it in 1883 and though it may seem traditional at first glance, the church doesn’t really have much to do with other Victorian era church architecture.

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I lived near this church for four years, and when I’d walk by, I could never decide if it was a fancy church pretending to be severe, or a severe church pretending to be fancy.

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There are lots of sneaky decorative bits.

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But the church tower is has more to do with crafty angles than the usual soaring-up-to-heaven business.

Appalachian Spring is like that too—full of crafty angles and dancers that leap but don’t soar.  While most ballet strives for the appearance of weightlessness, Martha Graham’s choreography never lets you forget gravity. Her dancers seem to end up on the floor a lot, but they never writhe around in the way you see in so much mediocre contemporary dance.

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Appalachian Spring’s set designer, Isamu Noguchi, took a minimalist approach, suggesting a farm with a few props much as the interior of All Saint’s church suggests a barn with a few prominent timbers.

 

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The score of Appalachian Spring is by Aaron Copeland and it interweaves the theme from Simple Gifts, a traditional Shaker hymn.  All Saints church uses Lift Every Voice and Sing II, a compilation of African-American hymns and gospel songs, in their church services.

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Here is HOB ringing the church bell at All Saints.  This has nothing to do with Appalachian Spring but I wanted to put him in because he’s cute.

 

How we got to All Saints Episcopal Church: bus.
Where we slept: at home. Price: mortgage, assessments and utilities. Recommended: highly.

 

11 comments

  1. I adore Noguchi’s work and had such a crush on Him too. I did get a chance to meet him once in Kyoto and was completely goofy and gobsmacked. I love this piece and their collaboration and your church. I get exactly what you mean – and love how you see and interpret architecture.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh that’s hilarious because I was just confessing my hots for Noguchi to HOB—dude only got hotter as he got older. Can’t believe you got to meet him. SO JEALOUS.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Right?! He was sexy and so brilliant (sexy)
        AND I have a cassette with a voice message he left on my answering machine in Kyoto. I think he was very amorous with younger girlfriends into his 80s. We missed our chance! Sigh!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for the links. I’d never gotten around to seeing AS. As for the church, you can get there from Noguchi’s set.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m lucky and Appalachian Spring came to me—one of the best reasons to work in the arts!

      I adore Noguchi’s gestural set.

      Like

  3. This church is brilliant! It reminds me of the Norwegian stave churches, is there a correlation or should I definitely go to Specsavers? Thanks for the insight in American culture, this is stuff that’s not widely known outside the US (I knew nothing about Stick style, Appalachian ballets or the various melanges of cultures and styles in the hymns).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There may very well be a stave church connection. So much of Chicago was built by the waves of immigrants coming in from Europe and around the world. There aren’t any other wooden churches this old to compare it too, though. After the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 wooden churches were forbidden. The reason this one was built was that at the time Ravenswood was not part of Chicago.

      Still, no one’s going to stop you from going to Specsavers if you want. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s given me a whole load of things to research and enjoy…many thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Story of my life too, which is one big rabbit hole of things to research and savor….

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’d never heard of any of this either, so I looked it up (just to check you weren’t just making stuff up to see how gullible we all are)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL! Actually I’m glad to see skepticism. I have a lot of friends and relatives, lovely people but they will post these blog posts on social media—like saying vaccines are poison and that sort of thing—and I’m thinking, guys, these is a wordpress blog. It isn’t fact checked or peer reviewed, the writer can just make up stuff and post it like fact.

      Liked by 1 person

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