Miraculous Staircase

The Loretto Chapel is a chapel of a former parochial school run by the Sisters of Loretto in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It is famous for its unusual spiral staircase. The building was constructed in 1853. During the construction of the building, they noticed that there was an oversight in the planning that the staircase needed to get to the choir loft was not in the plan. The size of the building was too small to put a normal size staircase. The story has it that the nuns prayed for St. Joseph’s intercession in nine days, and then a stranger showed up and told the nuns that he could help them build a staircase for the chapel provided that he was given privacy to work on it for three months. So he locked himself in the chapel and worked on the staircase, and when he was done he dissappeared. The nuns offered reward to find the carpenter, but it was never claimed. Many who saw the resulting staircase thought that it might be St. Joseph himself who came and helped built the staircase.

Aside from the mysterious person who worked on the staircase, the part that many considered as miraculous was the fact that the staircase was constructed without the use of nails and it does not have a central pole to support it. When studies were done to learn more about the structure, they learned that the outer helix combined with small radius of the inner wood stringer provided the structural support for the staircase.

Regardless whether it was a miracle or not, in the end the nuns had their prayers answered and they ended up with a beautiful staircase for their chapel. The staircase is a wonderful work of art that is worth checking out when you are in the area. We visited the chapel briefly during our stop in Santa Fe. Though it felt a little bit like it’s a tourist trap with many other tourists lining up to come into the small chapel, the visit was worthwhile as we got to see not only the staircase but also the beautiful interior of the chapel itself.

Miraculous staircase

Through the Eyes of an Artist

The area near Santa Fe, NM, is often called the “Georgia O’Keeffe Country” because the famous American painter spent a significant part of her life in the area and took the natural vistas and unique cultural influences as the inspiration for her work.

Prior to coming to Santa Fe, I didnt’ really know much about Georgia O’Keeffe other than she was a very well-known American artist and she called New Mexico home. We went to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe to learn more about her life and works. There we learned about her long life and career, her association with some other well-known American artists (like her husband Alfred Stieglitz, a world-famous photographer), and seeing a sampling of her works. The one that I recognized immediately was her painting of a ram’s skull with its two horns; an object unique to the area that she probably found somewhere in the nearby land.

As I read more about her life and approach to her arts, I learned that Georgia O’Keeffe was recognized for her approach to art that didn’t necessarily take influence from others. She was trained at the Art Institute in Chicago, and spent some time with her husband living in New York City, but it seemed that being alone in a small village in New Mexico provided her with more inspiration for her art work. She was able to take the time to explore and observe the unique landscape and nature around her, and came up with works that represented her view of those. Though she had some paintings of New Mexico landscapes, there were more paintings focusing on objects and close up view of nature she found around her — skulls or bones, flowers, architectural shapes, etc. And some were abstract in nature, not exactly photo-realistic replica of the real object but representing her view of it.

Sometimes when seeing artwork, I didn’t quite understand what the artwork really meant or where the artist got his or her inspiration from. But seeing some of O’Keeffe’s work, I could see how she appreciated seeing the details of things and life around them and appreciate those and captured them in her paintings. I appreciated this more as I thought of my own experience when I took my camera out and look for things to photograph. Sometimes the beauty and interesting things are found even in the seemingly ordinary surroundings when you take the camera and aim the viewfinder at details that normally we overlook. It could be shapes, combination of colors, textures, patterns, or any of these factors that our mind can appreciate as something beautiful or interesting.

Another observation from visiting the Museum and reading articles of Georgia O’Keeffe was that pretty much in all of the portrait photos of her that I saw, she seemed to have an austere look. I’m not sure if that’s more of a cultural norm or it was really her personality, but it seemed like she was always in deep thinking about things she observed, perhaps only expressed things through her arts.

Our visit to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum was quite brief; we only spent less than a couple of hours there as the place was quickly filled with visitors. But just like she went out and took time to look at details that others might have overlooked when rushed through the busyness of life, I wonder if we could appreciate her work and her perspective of the world around her more if perhaps we took time to go around the surrounding area and experience the nature that became her inspiration for her works.

Georgia O'Keeffe