Sally Chappell – Professional Biography & Remembrances

Sally Chappell – Professional Biography and Remembrances


Sally A. Kitt Chappell’s broad range includes architectural history, travel essays, poetry, and literary criticism. While a professor of art history at DePaul University in Chicago she published several books and articles, including “Architecture and Planning of Graham, Anderson, Probst and White,” (University of Chicago Press), which won the Association of American Publishers award for the best book in architecture and urban planning of 1992.

Chappell’s ground-breaking book “Cahokia: Mirror of the Cosmos” explored the interplay of landscape and culture. It was praised for “its luminous prose recounting the history of the place from its beginnings in the Mound Builder period to its contemporary distinction as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.”
In 2007 her “Chicago’s Urban Nature: A Guide to the City’s Architecture and Landscape” depicted over sixty places where architecture and landscape were conceived at the outset as a single whole.

In her poetry collections, “Shards” and “So Far,” Chappell portrays a world where nature, the city and the self-meet in astonishing and revealing juxtapositions.

From Georgia Sauer 10C — My truly brilliant next door neighbor Sally called me a few Sundays ago and asked me over – the first day of her brief hospice. She wanted her sister Glynn, in from Santa Fe, to see my apartment, which Sally loved. Glynn stayed the day, filling in details of Sally’s marvelous life.

There was simply no one like Sally.  When I was going back and forth from NYC in 2012 renovating my apartment here, this most elegant lady peeked out her door and told me she had a love affair with New York. An art gallery on Park Avenue brought her to NY each summer to work- she was an art historian, one of her many accomplishments.

She gave me an exquisite tea party to welcome me. And always commented on my clothes and jewelry and hair.  We left notes to each other on the antique chest on our landing, using beautiful postcards we each collected, “another thing we have in common,” she wrote me.

We shared so many interests, from our love of writing and civil rights and books and plants and family and cooking. When I left her and Walter a chili dinner on Super Bowl Sunday, she wanted the recipe, but typically commented on the dishes and presentation as well.

Her last note to me was about the orchids we arranged on our hall chest. “We make a good creative team,” she wrote. I will always miss her.

From Barbara & Dick Longworth 12B — In her last days as in the full years that preceded them, Sally personified what the philosophers mean when they talk about the examined life. She knew life’s tragedies, and she knew that she herself would die one day, so she determined to live her life to the fullest, to examine it and shape it, to leave nothing undone.

Sally loved learning and she loved sharing what she knew. She lived the life of the mind but was never content until she had led the rest of us – her friends and her students – to what she had discovered, and helped us to share her delight at the marvels that she found. Certainly, she was bookish: for her, words brought joy as well as knowledge. But outside the academy, she was alive to the beauty of the natural world, in the parks and gardens that inspired some of her best writing.

This is what she taught us. So many of her students say she changed their lives. For the rest of us, it will be the sheer pleasure and excitement of her company and the generosity of her spirit that we will miss.

From Virginia Miller & Adam Gehr 2A — In the early 1980s a colleague brought me to a dinner party at Sally and Walter’s at 3750 soon after I moved to Chicago. The other guests were certainly more erudite than I was, but nevertheless Sally was warm and welcoming, and took me under her wing. The photo, taken ca. 1984 in the garden court, records the party Sally threw to mark the departure of a colleague of mine to another institution—a kind and warm gesture typical of Sally. She was a mentor to so many art and architectural historians.

While I have many memories of Sally and Walter, there a few recent ones that stand out now. One is from 2018, when they decided to commemorate my wedding to Adam in an unusual way. With the Longworths, we had champagne and a lovely cake on which was perched a brightly painted wooden Mexican sculpture (see photo)! Then Sally and Walter disappeared, returning wearing masks and carrying walking sticks, while doing the famous old man’s dance of Michoacan (one of the several places in Mexico I sent Sally and Walter to stay in the winter)! When the music ended, we were presented with the masks and walking sticks—the latter still by our front door. I am so sorry I have no photos of the dancers that day

In 2019, Adam and I flew out to Phoenix to see an exhibition at the art museum there. We knew Sally and Walter were there, but we bumped into them by chance at the museum and talked about the show over coffee afterwards. Although the exhibition was in my area, Sally as usual was both enthusiastic and knowledgeable (and critical) of the show. Another day we had lunch and took a long walk in the spectacular botanic garden in Phoenix—a lovely afternoon.

Finally, just weeks before her death, on short notice I asked Walter and Sally to join us to eat the rhubarb pie I’d just made. They arrived promptly and we had a great visit. Little did we know that apart from chats in the hall, that would be the last time we’d be together.






From Alice & Steve Ginsburgh 4A — We are fortunate that we made Sally’s acquaintance in more depth beyond “Hello, how are you?” before the pandemic shut us all down.  Up until fall 2019 we had been traveling regularly for extended periods of time so that we had not really engaged enough with Sally.  However, we knew her as an art historian and discovered her deep intellectual curiosity during the 2019 Christmas season.  We will treasure our memories of her charm, of discovering how much we shared in common, of how Sally absorbed every detail of our seder ritual and participated with zest.  She shared her early experiences in New York City with us, particularly how she had taught English to a Holocaust survivor…and then graciously gave us a copy of Bernard Goldstein’s book complete with a special inscription.  That’s Sally—intent on making discoveries and learning all manner of new things while expanding her conversation partners’ horizons.  We will miss our chance corridor encounters with her, which often turned into long conversations that would make your day.

From Clare Heideman 14G — I met Sally in December of 2015 in 3750’s exercise room. I was on the elliptical machine, and she was next to me on the treadmill. Yes, the fact that she was on the treadmill in her mid-80’s should tell you something about her character and determination.

When Sally noticed I was reading, she asked me about it and that was the start of an ongoing conversation about literature that we both loved. We quickly discovered that we shared a joy of learning, a challenging book, and discussing it with others.  It turned out that Sally was a member of eight book clubs, and I have been taking classes at The University of Chicago for almost twenty years.

After our meeting, a lovely note and a copy of her The Ten Heavens of My Literary Paradise arrived outside my door.  It describes her “Top Ten” works of literature and why she chose them.  She does a fabulous job of illuminating the core of some very complex books and her appreciation and curiosity shine through. And our conversation continued, not only about books, but also life in general.

Sally’s zest for life and adventurous spirit was apparent in so many ways. She shared stories about finding herself single again in her 30’s and venturing into dating again.  She told me about “dropping her handkerchief” at The Art Institute, how she met Walter, and their pastime of racing cars.  Her more current interests ranged from poetry to the electoral college

Thinking of Sally makes me smile. She was not only such an accomplished person, she had a lovely and generous spirit.  She had a rare combination of elegance and approachability. She could be trusted with confidences, was forthright, and her encouragement and empathy always apparent in her affirming notes and emails.

I am so glad that I met Sally and will treasure the gift of our conversations and her spirit!