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PINEY POINT VILLAGE L andscape architect Thomas Woltz's new design for the grounds at Rothko Chapel was inspired by a moving experience he had while visiting the chapel with a friend many years ago. The acquaintance, an artist who had grown up in a communist country, was emotionally overcome by Mark Rothko's somber yet powerful works. "The paintings had touched something deep in him, and he was in tears," Woltz says. They stepped outside in search of privacy but were met by a wave of oppressive heat and glare from the July afternoon sun. "There was no place to go," Woltz says. "I felt so helpless, wishing there was an area for meditation to attend to the emotional needs of my friend, but there was nothing." Woltz, who also devised the Memorial Park Master Plan, had no idea that years later his Virginia-based firm, Nelson Byrd Woltz, would be hired to rethink the landscaping for the Rothko Chapel. He used that poignant memory with his friend as the catalyst for creating a meditative and reflective outdoor refuge — a chapel in the park. A series of shaded landscape "rooms" guides visitors to the park's sacred core, allowing their eyes to gradually adjust from the bright Texas sun to the dim chapel interior. The procession also prepares people spiritually and mentally for viewing Barnett Newman's dramatic Broken Obelisk sculpture, which rises out of a large reflecting pool on the plaza. Woltz's plan removed all nonessential structures from the site and park's boundary, reaffirming the powerful relationship between the chapel and Broken Obelisk; the sculpture was dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. in 1971, the same year as the chapel's founding. The Obelisk represents the chapel's commitment to human rights and social justice — values that resonate just as strongly in 2020. Because Rothko's paintings often elicit strong responses, visitors leaving the building now move through a range of peaceful spaces framed by river birches, with benches for quiet introspection. Woltz's vision of the chapel grounds are a sanctuary within a sanctuary. "It's an emotional, powerful experience being in front of Rothko's paintings," he says. "These layered, landscape spaces extend that experience by linking the paintings to the nature surrounding the chapel. They prepare your mind, soul, and eyes before you go in." They also take care of you after you come out. R e b e c c a Sherman Seeking Sanctuary Barnett Newman's Broken Obelisk, Rothko Chapel Plaza, dedicated 1971 The renovated Rothko Chapel with its suite of Mark Rothko canvases, which the artist completed in 1967 Rothko Chapel landscape designed by Nelson Byrd Woltz. All photographs Paul Hester. 26

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