Monday, March 23, 2015

A Divine Cathedral

On Saturday the NYC Urban Sketchers headed to the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine on Amsterdam Ave and 110th Street in Manhattan. Of course the snow from Friday night was supposed to have stopped before morning, but it definitely hadn't stopped here on Long Island. My friend, Susan, and I decided that even though it was snowing lightly the roads seemed to be really clear so we headed into the city in Susan's van. It had stopped snowing in Manhattan and they didn't have as much snow as we did out here. Susan had about 7 inches and there was about 3 inches by me. (A 10 minute drive can make a big difference in snow accumulations.)

These were some of the views outside the cathedral with snow all over.

I loved this sign about "Spring at the Cathedral" that was covered with snow. lol

The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine is an Episcopal Church which is actually also an interfaith center. The building was started in 1892 and is still under construction. It is supposed to be the largest cathedral in the world, but that is disputed depending on if you are talking width or height. For sure it is one of the 4 largest in the world.

Having lived in the NYC area all of my life, this was still my first time visiting the cathedral. I must say it is very impressive, and you couldn't ask for a better location to be sketching. All day long there are choral groups from all over coming in and performing for whoever is there. I think there were at least 8 groups that we heard hailing from all over the United States. With the wonderful acoustics at the cathedral you felt like you were close to heaven.

My first sketch had to be of a choir. I used artistic license and only did part of the group which I believe numbered about 50 students dressed in black gowns or tuxedos. Each group performed about 8 selections to the delight of everyone. They really had wonderful voices.

Next I tried to do some of the architecture. I was sitting in about the center of the cathedral and did the view towards the front door and the rose windows. All those arches were a nightmare to sketch.

I had a few minutes left before we went to lunch and sketched a young girl in another group. She reminded me of the Degas ballerina. She was standing so straight. I sketched her with a blue watercolor pencil, but I liked how it looked so I didn't add any water or other color.

After lunch I wanted to sketch part of an art exhibit that had been hanging at the cathedral for the last year. Our timing was a little off. It was taken down on Friday. The exhibit was by a Chinese artist Xu Bing. Here is a little about the exhibit.

Phoenix: Xu Bing at the Cathedral - January 2014 – March 2015
Over the course of two years, pioneering Chinese contemporary artist Xu Bing culled detritus from construction sites across the rapidly changing urban landscape of Beijing, and transformed it into his most monumental project to date: Phoenix (2008-10). A feat of engineering and ingenuity, Phoenix is composed of two birds, a male called Feng and a female called Huang, together weighing 12 tons and measuring 90 and 100 feet long, respectively. At once fierce and strangely beautiful, Xu Bing's mythic birds bear witness to the complex interconnection between labor, history, commercial development, and the rapid accumulation of wealth in today's China.
The birds that were part of the exhibit were resting on platforms on the floor of the cathedral. They were huge and I can just imagine what the exhibit looked like with them suspended from the ceiling.

My last sketch was one of the archways looking from one of the side rooms through the hallways across the cathedral. It is so hard to decide how much to include because there was so much detail to everything.

We had about 9/10 urban sketchers in total during the course of the day. I think it was the first time we went to lunch and then met again in the late afternoon to share our sketches over drinks where nobody sketched at the table either time. lol I think we were just too overwhelmed by the day.

We are hoping to return again when the weather is warmer to sketch some of the other buildings and statues on the property.


  1. Joan your sketches are wonderful and really seem to capture this beautiful place. Your photo of the Cathedral and the snow is lovely as well. This sounds like a definite place to revisit. Thanks for sharing. Hope your snow is leaving soon! Hugs.

  2. That is an amazing cathedral! But definitely overwhelming to sketch! Your sketches are great -- you chose interesting subjects that weren't too MUCH!

    - Tina

  3. How stunning is this cathedral? Really beautiful and I am amazed that you took on some of this architecture, Joan. Well done too!

  4. Thanks, Debbie. It was such a lovely, peaceful day with just the stress of the architecture. lol

    Tina, thanks so much. I can't wait to sketch the outside too...although that will be overwhelming too.

    Thanks, Sherry! The problem (aside from the architectural details) with sketching such a big cathedral is everything is so high up it is hard to get a good view without straining your neck.

  5. All these sketches are wonderful, Joan.! Beautiful details on this Cathedral!!

  6. It is such a beautiful place. Thanks, Hilda!

  7. Great photos Joan! And as always fantastic watercolors! I am resting my shoulder but still enjoying your blog!

  8. Thanks, Hilda. It is such an amazing place.

    Michael, great to see you visiting. Thanks!

  9. Dear Ms. Tavolott:

    I'm writing on behalf of Xu Bing Studio, the studio of the artist who created the phoenixes you so beautifully depicted in watercolor above.

    Our studio is compiling artwork from the public for a publication on Xu Bing's Phoenixes at the Cathedral.

    Please contact me if you would be willing to share your brilliant pieces with us for future publication.

    Yours sincerely,
    Sam Moore
    Xu Bing Studio