Recently we went to the Madonna della Strada Chapel at the Lake Shore Campus of Loyola University to find answers about work that Edgar Miller possibly created for the space. This gem of an Art Deco-style chapel, designed by architect Andrew Rebori, opened in 1938. Miller, by then a close friend of Rebori, submitted designs for many art installations, including the large rose windows facing Lake Michigan at the front of the building.
Front facade of Madonna della Strada Chapel (Photo: Loyola University)
The rose windows are the biggest source of confusion because Miller and another craftsman-artist Karl Hackert submitted designs for them, and while no letter ever expressed that they chose Hackert over Miller, recent research done by a Loyola student, Guy Valponi, shows a clear leaning toward Hackert as the final executor of the windows. Father Mertz, the priest in charge of the project, expressed that Hackert’s work was a lot cheaper and higher quality, although there are also reasons to believe that Mertz’s strong personality and Edgar’s devotion to art over practical costs came into conflict, and caused a rift between the two.
Still, the rose window design looks very similar to Miller’s sketches for the project, and exhibit his distinct design patterns, such as the use of clovers and a primitive aesthetic. It is completely possible that they used Miller’s designs but commissioned Hackert to execute them, due to his ability to work at a cheaper rate. Unfortunately, a definitive answer to this quandary is unavailable due to a lack of existing records.
Sketch of proposed rose windows by Miller (Photo by Alexander Vertikoff; Image courtesy Aldinger Collection)
On the front facade of the building are four relief sculptures, depicting the Four Evangelists, and though they aren’t officially credited as Edgar Miller’s work, the overall appearance combined with evidence that Miller worked with Rebori on other aspects of the chapel’s design, leads many to believe that Miller was responsible for their design and probably their execution, too.
Vintage images of the bas relief sculptures before they were attached to the front facade of the chapel:
It is unclear what Edgar specifically created inside the chapel, though there are many pieces that remind us of his work. It is known that Miller submitted a proposal for the Stations of the Cross to be done as an elaborate mosaic, which would have wrapped completely around the chapel nave. It was dismissed as completely unfeasible because of the limited, Depression-era budget, and another artist was chosen to paint the Stations. Though it remains unclear what work is Edgar’s, we were impressed by the mosaics in the building's crypt and in the Madonna della Strada Shrine to one side of the chancel. Valponi remarks that the evidence points to Hackert as the executor for the North American Martyrs Shrine, but limited information on the Madonna della Strada Shrine leaves us wondering about its creator. The mosaic work as well as the stained glass windows in the Madonna Shrine have strong stylistic similarities to Miller's aesthetic. The color scheme and geometric patterns resemble the chapel’s rose window, so again, it is entirely possible Miller's designs were used but he was not the executor.
Images of the crypt mosaics and the Madonna Shrine:
Photo: Larry Zgoda
Ceiling and wall mosaics, stained glass windows, and cast bronze plaques in the Madonna Shrine show resemblance to Miller's style
Angel plaques which bear a strong similarity to the Madonna and Child sculpture credited to Miller (see below)
Even woodcarvings in the rectory exhibit zigzag patters and a bas relief image of a Madonna and Child that seem peculiarly evocative of Miller’s artistic style and design sensibilities, but there is no clear record of who created them. The Loyola theology professor who gave us our tour, John Paul Salay, also took us into the bell tower where they store a bronze sculpture of a similar Madonna and Child. This sculpture, more than any other, seems clearly the work of Miller’s and is reported to have offended Father Mertz for overly resembling the statuary of Eastern religions. It was meant to sit at the alter of the chapel, but because it didn’t align with Mertz’s tastes, was relegated for many years to a spot on a wall outside the building, only to then find its way to its current storage area in the bell tower.
Carving of Madonna and Child in the chapel rectory
Madonna and Child credited to Miller, now in storage
If anything, our visit to the chapel created more questions than answers, but regardless, we are glad to have experienced such a beautiful building with so many interesting works of art.