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Featured Windows, December 2010-January 2011

Children's Chapel, Methodist Children’s Village

Building: Children's Chapel, Methodist Children's Village

City: Redford

State: Michigan

The Methodist Children’s Home Society in Redford, Michigan was founded in 1917 by a group of Methodist women to work with children who were orphaned at a time when only church organizations and some private social agencies provided for the care of the needy in our society. Presently the agency’s primary focus is children who have been subjected to physical, psychological and sexual abuse or children who have been severely neglected by their parents. As a foster home, the society provides treatment for children from birth through age seventeen in a family atmosphere. While many of the children attend special education programs, most of the children participate in regular classrooms. The society also provides a supplemental education program during the summer months.

One of the facilities located on the Redford campus is the Children’s Chapel, a reproduction of a sixteenth century English Tudor-style chapel. Built with money from the Kresge Foundation, the Children’s Chapel was dedicated in September, 1952. Noteworthy in this architectural jewel are the designs of twentieth century artist Warner Sallman, which appear in seventeen small and large stained glass windows beautifying the interior of the chapel space. The windows depict biblical and devotional scenes that honor the developmental stages of children as well as their cultural heritage.

The designs of all the major windows, and possibly the smaller windows containing liturgical symbols, are attributed to Warner Sallman, a Chicago artist whose paintings are reproduced in the windows. Sallman, a painter and freelance illustrator, was well known for his oil portrait, The Head of Christ, which sold more than 500 million copies.

Sallman became interested in art at an early age, and was especially impacted by the religious art of Gustave Doré, a nineteenth century French illustrator known for his biblical images. Following graduation from high school, he apprenticed in local studios while attending the Chicago Art Institute. After a brief attempt to become established in New York, Sallman returned to Chicago and began his career as a commercial artist. Through the encouragement of a business associate, Sallman enrolled at a Bible school where he was asked by the dean of the school to create an historical and “masculine” image of Christ, in part from the quest for a historical Jesus among biblical scholars and popular print illustrators. Late nineteenth and early twentieth century sensibility focused on what Jesus looked like rather than what he did, as the result of a didactic method meant to visualize a special character-forming influence, especially on children. Engravings of various media depicting the life of Christ were originally reprinted in “picture” textbooks as devotional aids for children.

Throughout his career, Sallman produced a wide range of portraits of Christ, including Christ at Heart’s Door, Christ in Gethsemane, and Christ Our Pilot, which is reproduced in the center section of the three paneled chapel balcony window. Sallman’s images of Christ fulfilled the “masculine” notion of parental authority as well as Christ as a protective guardian and friend, embodying virtuous qualities particularly comforting to orphaned or abused children. On the left panel, Jesus is depicted as a provider distributing the abundant loaves and fishes. The right panel depicts his unconditional love and acceptance inspired by the verse from Matthew 19:14 “Of Such Is the Kingdom,” words which also appear over the door of the Administration Building at the Village. Below the images on the left and right panels, “guardian” angels affirm Jesus’ promises of comfort in the blowing of trumpets and song.

Across from the balcony window is the three-sectioned chancel window portraying a familiar biblical scene for children, the Nativity of Christ.

On the east and west sides of the chapel nave, images of six girls and six boys represent different nationalities, each on a single window. Beginning on the northwest corner of the chapel, a singing English choir boy ,a Puerto Rican girl with a tropical palm, an African boy with a prayer book ,a Native American girl in full indigenous regalia, a smiling French boy, and a pious Dutch girl follow one another in “single file” down the aisle way representing their respective countries as noted by various traditional costumes and symbolic motifs.

Noteworthy are the designs of each child’s particular country, such as a windmill of Holland, and the Fleur de Lys of France, enhancing the tradition of each culture.

On the east side of the nave, a young praying girl representing Canada, a Palestinian boy with Islamic star, a Japanese girl surrounded by cherry blossoms, a Chinese boy with a parasol,

and an Indian Nepalese girl, depict many of the major worldwide nations. Completing the series is an image of a Boy Scout, reproduced from a design by another popular twentieth century artist, Norman Rockwell, which symbolizes the American virtues of faith and patriotism. The representation of equal number of boys and girls would ensure that young viewers would respond better to images keyed to nurture their gender consciousness.

The Children’s Chapel can be situated in the historical period of 1950’s America when the country’s religious life included the propagation of a new form of patriotic allegiance that was closely linked to the “cold war,” developing a new tolerance for religious diversity albeit within a Christian nation. A new visual piety particularly designed and built into the structure of twentieth century Protestant churches used didactic and devotional images of Christ as well as emblems and symbols of America as a world leader of nations.

The tolerance of religious diversity increased, employing European Catholic representations of Jesus in Protestant churches in various media as well as stained glass art, which grounded the nation in its Christian origins. The representation of children from many nations denote the innocence, faith, and hope of an America as a young world leader secure in its identity with Christ as the Pilot guiding the way. Religious spaces such as the chapel at the Methodist Home Society were especially sensitive to a new age in their spiritual history, shaping young minds during a time of national reorientation.

The stained glass windows were perhaps not an end to themselves but part of a larger program of patriotic persuasion creating aesthetic spaces of contemplation, reverently substantiating a Christian nationhood of pure ideals while honoring cultural and religious diversity.

The Children's Chapel, Methodist Children's Village was registered in the Michigan Stained Glass Census by Brandi Sage.

Bibliography: Show Bibliography

(MSGC 1994.0037)

Text by Linda Johnson, MSU American Studies doctoral candidate, Michigan Stained Glass Census, December , 2010.