Euine Fay Jones (1921-2004), a native of Pine Bluff (South-East Arkansas) and the first dean of the Architecture Department at Arkansas University, was one of the most known apprentices of Frank Lloyd Wright, the American modernist architect who established what was later known as the prairie school of design. Prairie School was the Northern American version of the influential Arts and Crafts Movement, which set the trend in design and architecture at the end of the nineteenth century- beginning of the twentieth century. The prairie school`s rules of thumb evolve around the focus on craftsmanship, the restricted use of ornaments, the integration of the construction in the landscape, the preference given to horizontal lines, the solid appearance of the construction, as well as the tendency of projecting roofs with large, overhanging eaves.
A sub-genre of the prairie school is the so-called Usonian architecture (i.e. a shortening from United States of Northern America) as seen in the construction of the Bauchman-Wilson house. Frank Lloyd Wright dubbed it the archetypal house for the American middle-class during the Great Depression, as it restates the basic principles of the prairie school, namely the importance ascribed to the existing connection between architecture and nature as illustrated by the restrained ornaments of facades and interiors. Bauchman-Wilson house was built in 1956 in New Jersey and amply restored in 1988. Given the unsuitability of the environmental conditions for the preservation of the house, it was considered for relocation. Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art based in Bentonville, NW Arkansas acquired the house in 2013 and reconstructed it on its grounds in 2015.
This was an inspired gesture if we take into account that Bachman-Wilson house has become a reference on the map of architectural modernism in NW Arkansas. The other representative constructions are the Peace Fountain located on the campus of the Arkansas University at Fayetteville; the Thorncrown Chapel of Eureka Springs; the Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel of Bella Vista. These works signed by E. Fay Jones are also the most prestigious of his, but they do not exhaust the multitude of modernist attractions including houses (i.e. especially private), as well as public buildings planned by Jones, but also by some of his predecessors, which are scattered all over NW Arkansas. The Architecture Department at Arkansas University grew in prominence at national level starting with the 1950s. Since then, many graduates followed the lead, such as the case of Marlon Blackwell whose buildings planned in the spirit of E. Fay Jones can be admired throughout the area.
It has to be mentioned that E. Fay Jones, the most acclaimed student of Frank Lloyd Wright, issued his own version of prairie school, something that his admirers and followers called Ozark modern. The style draws on the major prerequisite of the prairie school, the intrinsic connection of the building with the environment of its placement. E. Fay Jones deepened this concept by using native Arkansas construction materials like wood, stone.
This principle is visible in the marvelous chapels constructed by him in the 1980s. The first one, the Thorncrown Chapel*, located near Eureka Springs, was built in 1980 under the initiative of Jim Reed, a retired school teacher who wished to provide a meditation area and a vantage point where the traveler can enjoy the scenic beauty of the Ozark`s hills. Its almost 15 meters high wooden structure encloses a glass frame that allows a completely free view of the surrounding nature. The sharp beams that are intertwined in geometrical patterns above the head are an obvious allusion to Christ`s thorn crown.
The second chapel, the Mildred B. Cooper Memorial was built in 1988 and it was commissioned by John A. Cooper Sr. to honor his late wife, Mildred. The chapel, which is located in Bella Vista, has the same elaborate intertwinement of beams, this time forming Gothic arches above the head. Another distinction in relation to the other chapel is the fact that steel and glass predominate in the structure, and not wood and stone. For some reason, this memorial is not as known as the Thorncrown Chapel. Yet, to the non-expert in architecture, it is equally majestic.
*The Thorncrown Chapel was placed by the American Institute of Architects on the fourth place on its list of the top buildings of the twentieth century.
*** Sources used for this article can be found inside the Bachman-Wilson house and the chapels. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed inside the Bachman-Wilson House but the Crystal Bridges site gives the needed details: