The Saint in the Studio

It’s funny the things that can happen to an alum on the trip through life. Having lived under the beauty of Golden Ears, the Northwest can appeal indefinitely, and that’s what happened to me. Entering Trinity Western in 1980, I was one of many Californians led north. Many of you were my friends, as I made an appeal—of sorts—to replace my small town community with knowing all of you on campus; you made me feel at home while the dorms became my refuge and personal growth factory.

So much so, I went off to educate myself further with a Master’s in College Student Development from Houghton’s program at Buffalo State. Fortunate for me, at graduation, I was recruited by Seattle Pacific University to come live on their beautiful campus—managing residence halls. I was in driving distance of Golden Ears once again.

As is common to Northwest life, one usually ends up on an island for a time, and that was my course after SPU: life on an island in between Seattle and Tacoma known as Vashon—only accessible by ferry boat. This is where I took time to find respite amidst the AIDS crisis that interfaced with my urban church in 1993—friends gained and lost in a matter of a couple of years. This is when I ended up with an artist from church, out at her home studio pulling weeds in the garden and assisting in various ways—another place of refuge from what had become a great storm.

In this artistic process, I ended up in attic rooms and on the parapet of The Empress Hotel—the Canadian Pacific’s architectural wonder designed by Francis M. Rattenbury that sits at the edge of Vancouver Island. Ferry by ferry, the artist and I commuted to its banks to research and complete the task of sculpting The Empress in miniature. A fine detailed process. It was an intricate piece and we were honored to display it alongside the reveal of the new Canadian Pacific Hotel logo at a grand event in the Tea Lobby in 1996.

There were other projects—primarily, the sculptural illustrations to a children’s novel titled Redwall by author Brian Jacques out of Random House, London. His characters—mice, moles, rats, and others—were a part of our studio in a long sustained creative effort.

But the secret quiet piece that came to life in the studio in 1994 has new significance this year. It is a reverent and beloved six-inch sculpture of Mother Teresa, said by her attorney (who copyrighted the piece) to be perhaps the most authentic representation of Mother Teresa ever made.

Mother Teresa will be canonized this September 4th in Rome, something that I thought may not happen in my lifetime. The sculpture is still alive and in my keeping, though the production studio shut down years ago. The master sculptor, j. london, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s at only 39, and so her life needed to make some shifts. This is what happens as we go along: life takes unexpected twists and turns.

With the Sainthood of Mother Teresa, this year will shift again as hopefully, the remaining 930 Mother Teresa sculptures will make their way to homes across the globe. As Trinity Western alumni, we were to “make an impact in the marketplaces of life.” My marketplace has been a quiet one, but real, with provision stories of a God who is there, now keeping a roof over my head with a saint in my studio.

Merna Chance graduated from TWU in 1985 and went on for a Master’s Degree in College Student Development where she worked in Residence Life at Houghton College, Seattle Pacific University, and later at Westmont in San Francisco. Her pursuit of knowing Christ in culture and immersing herself in that context led to small business with an artist—first in the Northwest—and then in the Pomona Art Colony in Southern California. Here, Merna was immersed with street youth and young artisans looking for spiritual direction making the studio a vibrant gathering space during the post-modern era. Augmented by courses at Fuller Seminary, Pasadena is a city where Merna remains active in the Leadership Pasadena network. Currently living on her family’s almond farm in Central California, Merna assists with elder parent transitions and is about to launch for selling almonds direct. Her present online contact is at the Mother Teresa