Regional designers craft new baptismal font for Dowagiac ChurchPublished 8:00am Thursday, May 8, 2014
When the clergy at Holy Maternity of Mary announced their plans to build a new baptismal font to adorn the entrance of their chapel, the congregation wasn’t initially convinced it would be worth the church’s time and money.
However, when they got their first glimpse of the completed fountain’s detailed wooden base, ornate miniature stain glass windows lining the stand and intricate brass seashell topping the basin, they quickly changed their minds.
“They saw that it was worth every penny that went into it,” said Laura Magee, the director of volunteers at the church.
The Dowagiac church officially dedicated the new fountain last month during its Holy Saturday service Easter weekend. Three adults and one child were baptized in its waters during the service, said Rev. Kevin Covert, the church pastor.
“When they finally saw the finished product, they were real supportive,” Covert said. “This is the symbol of the church.”
The introduction of the new fountain wrapped up a project that was two years in the making, Covert said. The church had spent the last couple of years working with three different artists from the Michiana area to design and build the new baptism spring. Their prior fountain featured a very sparse design, with a square shaped base and a basin that resembled a “salad bowl,” the pastor said.
“Baptism is the most basic sacrament of the church, and the old font just wasn’t good enough for that,” Covert said.
The committee in charge of designing a replacement fountain contacted Tuck Langland, of Granger, to ask if he would be interested in contributing his knowledge of metalwork and sculpting to the project. Langland had created several works of art for Dowagiac in the past, including the “Dance of Creation” statue in Farr Park.
“He was excited about the opportunity to work with us,” Magee said. “This presented a new challenge that he hadn’t been presented with before.”
It was Langland who suggested the idea of using a seashell as the centerpiece of the well, as it was a very organic element that harked back to the origins of baptisms, which were done in natural bodies of water, Covert said.
“Bronze can be a very ponderous, very heavy material to work with,” Covert said. “However, this artist has a very light touch. There’s a delicacy to this piece that you don’t typically see from other bronze works.”
Responsible for the design of the base was Jerry Dodd with Product Design Services in Benton Harbor. The wooden structure was built to match the English gothic elements of the chapel itself, and features an octagonal shape to reflect the eight holy days of obligation observed by the Catholic Church.
“The shell looks like a precious treasure that we found, which we then placed in this gothic mount,” Covert said.
Another prominent decorative feature is the set of small glass panes, which are tiny replicas of the stained glass windows lining the walls of the chapel. Mike Northrop, of Three Rivers, built these, etching the names of donors who contributed to the project.
Once the design was finalized, the fountain took eight months to build, Covert said.
“When I finally saw it after it was finished, it took my breath away,” Magee said. “You can look at the drawings and design sketches, but when you actually see it, it doesn’t compare.”
The baptism font is the focal point of Holy Maternity’s planned restoration of their over century-old chapel, Covert said. The pastor and other church leaders are looking to bring back the entryway arches and other original design elements that have been replaced over the years. They are also interested in updating the flooring and adding a painting of Mary and the Holy Spirit above the font.
For now though, Covert is pleased with the service that local artists provided to his flock, he said.
“All of this was designed and built by people from the area. We didn’t have to find anybody from Chicago or beyond,” Covert said. “We, as a community, are capable of building a lot of beauty.”