Congratulations are in order- The World Chess Hall of Fame recently celebrated its seventh anniversary in the Central West End!
At this iconic institution, you’ll find everything from world-class exhibitions to an award-winning gift shop. And we can’t forget the World’s Largest Chess Piece that welcomes you upon arrival. We recently sat down with WCHOF Marketing Communications Coordinator, Brian Flowers, to learn more about the organization and why St. Louis is considered the “chess capital of the nation.”
*Images courtesy of World Chess Hall of Fame
Congratulations on seven years here in the CWE! How has the organization grown since 2011?
Brian Flowers: Thank you! The World Chess Hall of Fame (WCHOF) opened its doors to the public on September 9, 2011. Since opening, we have welcomed almost 90,000 visitors to our organization and have curated 39 exhibitions, featuring internationally-recognized artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Yoko Ono, Harry Benson, Victor Vasarely, John Cage, Man Ray, Max Ernst, Tom Friedman, Marcel Dzama, Barbara Kruger and Rachel Whiteread, plus dozens of local and regional artists, designers and musicians.
Earlier this year, the WCHOF unveiled the World’s Largest Chess Piece! Tell us about that.
Brian Flowers: We are so excited to be internationally recognized by Guinness World Records as having the “Largest Chess Piece,” recapturing the title a second time! The chess piece is 20 feet tall, weighs over 10,000 pounds and is hand-carved from African sapele mahogany. The giant king was unveiled at our spring exhibitions opening reception on April 12, 2018, also kicking off the 2018 U.S. and Women’s Chess Championships, hosted by our sister organization, the Saint Louis Chess Club, which celebrated its 10-year milestone in July. The unveiling was well-attended, including Central West End resident and 2018 World Chess Championship contender, Grandmaster Fabiano Caruana, several top American chess players, city and county officials, and our founders, Dr. Jeanne & Rex Sinquefield. The iconic king chess piece not only serves as a beacon for the Saint Louis Chess Campus, but also a regional and national landmark that exemplifies Saint Louis’ impact on the sport and art of American chess. It’s also a great selfie spot!
You’ve got some new exhibitions opening in October. Can you share some details about what people can expect?
Brian Flowers: We have two brand-new exhibitions opening on October 5:
Harry Benson: Kings & Queens is a photography exhibit spanning the 60+ year career of world-renowned photojournalist Harry Benson CBE. Images include chess players and cultural icons such as Robert “Bobby” Fischer, Fabiano Caruana, Hikaru Nakamura, Magnus Carlsen, celebrities, American presidents, and British royalty, in addition to newly-commissioned photography from the 2018 Sinquefield Cup, an elite chess event featuring 10 of the strongest chess players in the world.
Universal Turf: Peter Manion is a mixed media installation of never-before-seen works by Saint Louis-based artist Peter Manion that explores social and interpersonal parallels between chess and humanity. Manion’s plaster-coated panels of dyed felt create an interactive environment in which visitors are encouraged to interact with parts of the installation.
In addition to beautiful photography and colorful conceptual art, guests will have the opportunity to mingle with Benson and Manion, shop exhibition-related merchandise in our award-winning gift shop, Q Boutique, and enjoy complimentary cocktails and hors d’oeuvres from 6 to 8 p.m.
The WCHOF also hosts different events each month. What would you say are some of your most popular ones?
Brian Flowers: Most of our programming is quite popular, especially our Monthly Music Series which features a wide range of local and regional talent, plus our Composer Spotlight Series, in partnership with the St. Louis Symphony. Our adult programming, ranging from art and craft workshops led by local artisans to chess novel discussion groups are favorites that regularly sell out. Our concerts are modestly priced at $20 per person and our workshops are only $10 per person. Both include complimentary drinks and appetizers, and are half price for WCHOF members.
In addition to events, there are some pretty big tournaments that take place here in the CWE! When can people see some of the top players from around the world?
Brian Flowers: The Saint Louis Chess Club across the street hosts a variety of national and international chess tournaments, year-round. Currently, the Chess Club hosts all the major national chess tournaments, which includes the U.S. & U.S. Women’s Chess Championships and the U.S. & U.S. Girls’ Junior Championships. Along with those, the Chess Club also hosts major elite international tournaments as part of the Grand Chess Tour. Both the Sinquefield Cup and the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz boast fields with 10 of the top players from around the world. Even more, the Chess Club holds international tournaments for players directly below elite level during the four seasonal classic tournaments, as well as two norm tournaments. Overall, anyone wishing to bump elbows with grandmasters or watch their chess idols in person should stop by the Chess Club at almost any time of year! For a full list of tournaments, please visit www.saintlouischessclub.org.
I understand the St. Louis Chess Club also celebrated an anniversary recently?
Brian Flowers: Yes! The Saint Louis Chess Club celebrated its 10 year anniversary on July 17, 2018. For the past 10 years, we have truly loved being in the Central West End and sharing our passion for chess with fans from around the world. Although we are a member based Chess Club for players of all skill levels, we also promote the game of chess and its educational benefits to hundreds of students throughout the Saint Louis area each year. Ultimately, we hope to continue to grow and expand our Chess Club for the next 10 years to come and continue to bring about the resurgence of American chess.
How can people get involved with the WCHOF?
Brian Flowers: The WCHOF is for everyone, for avid chess players and non-chess players alike! Our exhibitions and gift shop are open seven days a week and entry is free of charge. People can become involved by attending our events, such as the Monthly Music Series or book group. We also offer networking opportunities, such as joining our Chess Campus Young Professionals Board or Corporate Chess League. Becoming a member at the WCHOF gives special access to shopping at Q Boutique and VIP events. The WCHOF also offers a major gift program, the Caissa Club.