As a historian by training and a college arts administrator by trade, my adult life has been spent exploring the relationship between faith, power, beauty and the human experience. 

Author in Taos Pablo, New Mexico (1968)

As a military brat, the experience of living in some of the most dramatic natural landscapes of New Mexico, Alaska, California and now at the front porch of the ancient Appalachians developed the visceral instinct for me to seek out - periodically - the restorative power of a beach, cliff, desert, mountain or even just my local hiking trails.  

Denali National Park from small airplane. Author's own photo.

Ghost Ranch New Mexico (2016). Author's own photo.

This visceral instinct is checked - and maybe it's egocentricity or the controlling side of my nature - by a sensation that too much wide-open space renders me untethered, insignificant, and feeling desperate at the seeming futility of the human condition.

So, I seek contrast.
Be it sleek and minimalistic like the Vietnam War Memorial, a communication of wealth and political power as in the case of the Piazza San Marco in Venice, or an attempt to show devotion and glorification of God like the great cathedral of Notre Dame - an architectural structure better suits my desire to create a constant conversation between the natural and the humanly constructed. The Ebenezer Chapel project captures this balance. Its plans allow for places of both community and solitude, for nature and the organization inherent in a "structure."

Author's own photo from Mosque cathedral of Cordoba Spain (2014)

I believe many of us have this need to be alone, together. In his famous commentary, Here is New York, E. B. White noted, “On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy.”

Facebook and social networking briefly held a glint of replicating this virtual city, but perhaps it is the lack of a physical structure, a fixed location, and a committed intention which makes the slack, lazy ease of posting, liking, following and friending less fulfilling and more hollowing than any rainy day spent in the halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Author's photo taken in Vienna (2014)

Author's photo taken in Vienna (2014)

Architecture grounds us in the world, gives us a sense of place and time and makes our insignificance somehow more bearable. Maybe it's being surrounded by walls that not only house but lock down history - sealing it into place for as least as long as we are there to engage it. Or maybe there is comfort in slowly and oh-so subjectively viewing and valuing items of beauty on the walls, works of art found there along with their stories. We are alone with all of it, adding our little fictions as we view and carrying on a conversation with only ourselves and the ghosts of each room, each painting, each bust of Homer.

Author's daughter, Lena, at the Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco (1996)

Everywhere you look is a story, but the viewer brings the meaning. We wander in public spaces - sometimes disrupting and sometimes entering each others private stories. And sometimes, we're just alone, together. Being part of the "searching others" is something I look forward to experiencing at Ebenezer Chapel. In this project, I feel as if I have found an entire dedicated community who not only desire the queer prizes White spoke of, but will help create them for us all.

Melissa Vrana is lucky enough to be a community college administrator overseeing the visual, performing and culinary arts. One of Her favorite late evening party tricks is quoting Thomas Paine's Common Sense. . . (who else makes such good use of the word, "sycophant?") Vrana means "crow" in Czech, making her an actual Bohemian.