The Sea Ranch Chapel came about (as these things often do) through friends of a friend coming into contact with the artist at the perfect time. It was in this manner that Robert and Betty Buffum commissioned the design of a non-denominational chapel and worship space for their community, The Sea Ranch, California.
The artist’s designs always seek inspiration from the local area and surrounding nature, and so it was on a visit to the location that the design of the chapel began to take shape. The artist was staying with Pat and Lyle Ditzler, friends of the Buffum’s and Sea Ranch residents themselves. The artist slept in the room of their recently deceased son Kirk Ditzler. In addition to being a naval aviator Kirk was an artist, and his drawings scattered throughout the room of seashells and bird’s wings came to inspire the idea of flight in the chapel. Further influences arose from the site and soon a model was built. A ceramic and teak model came to serve as the main guide for construction more than any traditional blueprints.
The chapel is built with a base of local stones, branching out into flower beds which helps blend the structure into the hill. What proved to be most challenging was constructing the curvi-linear lines of the roof. Fortunately one of the carpenters had been trained in boat building, and so through a series of trial and error, the roof frame was bent, pushed, and coerced into a semblance of the model line. The next step was to apply the cedar shingles over a waterproof membrane. Because of the irregularly shaped roof, the traditional straight rows of overlapping wood soon evolved into a series of undulating whorls and eddies, like waves in the ocean or the surrounding canopy of pines caught in a wind.
The interior is composed of redwood strips and high plaster ceilings. The benches and shelves were carved by Bruce Johnson, the elements seeming to grow from the ground itself. The tall stain glass window that cuts a swath through the chapel roof was donated by the Ditzlers, and the grand double doors are products of the Hubbell studio and embody that traditional aesthetic. Also from the studio are the wrought iron prayer screen and chandelier.
It is through the combination of all these craftsmen, all these moments and connections that one of the artist’s greatest structures came to life. The space now functions as a place of worship and meditation for the community. Sometimes small ceremonies or weddings are held there. It is a space of beauty and wonder in its meaning, its design, and its construction. The artist firmly believes that each moment of a building’s life, from conception to construction to use, should be considered equally important and rewarding. Creation of a structure is a process, just as life is. The Sea Ranch Chapel is a worthy embodiment of this philosophy, and perhaps even something to reflect on within its walls.