Upper Room

Patterson Webster
in collaboration with Myke Hodgins, Eric Fleury and Mary Martha Guy

Upper Room   2016–2020
Brick, cedar posts, oak benches, slate, boxwood, tempered glass, stainless steel
Collection of the artist

Set on a forested hillside, the Upper Room is a memorial to the artist’s mother. The space is divided into three parts, mirroring the architecture of the Methodist church that the artist and her family attended when she was young, and the name of the memorial underlines its religious overtones. A wire fence surrounds the area, defining it as a “room” while leaving open the view to the surrounding forest.

A brick-floored terrace, or narthex, serves as entry to the main level, where two benches, designed like pews, face inwards. The benches are backed by boxwood, bleeding heart and evergreen ferns, plants that suggest both grief and everlasting life. Bare tree trunks stand in square wooden boxes at the four corners of the nave-like space, suggesting columns that support a non-existent roof. On the upper level, five glass panels are arranged in an arc that opens out like welcoming arms in memory of a mother’s warm embrace.

The glass panels, designed by Montreal artist Mary Martha Guy, depict a dogwood, Virginia’s state flower. While the tree’s blossoms are sandblasted onto the panels, the tree itself is created by empty space within the sandblasted areas. The clear glass, signifying absence and loss, allows a viewer to look through it, onto a forest of actual trees, while the sandblasted areas create an interplay of light and shadow. Reflected in the glass, the viewer becomes part of the setting and a participant in the memorial.

The dogwood tree suggests family trees and generational connections. The formal, symmetrical layout of the space and the use of brick and boxwood are characteristic of Virginia’s historic architecture and traditional garden design. Together they serve as a tribute to the state where Patterson Webster’s mother lived and where the artist grew up.