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Chiseled Mahogany Doors (March 2019)

Chiseled Mahogany Doors

By Deborah Burkett

In 1987, Congress designated March as Women's History Month. It is a time to honor women who have made an impact and left behind a meaningful legacy. Often Texas stories of notable women illustrate family connections to Cherokee County residents.

In 1938, art classes at Texas State College for Women undertook the ambitious but fascinating job of decorating the "The Little Chapel in the Woods" at the college. The chapel was planned by President Dr. L. H. Hubbard to be a space where students could go for special worship and reflection.

Built during the Great Depression with donations from parents, students and friends--two architects agreed to draw the basic plans for the chapel. The gray limestone walls and tile floors were cut and laid by the National Youth Administration, a New Deal agency which focused on providing work and education for Americans between the ages of 16 and 25.

But the rest of the Chapel is credited to the women art students who designed and executed everything.

Carmeta Drummond, the late mother of longtime Jacksonville resident, Tina Sorrell, was part of this team of women. All the furnishings for the chapel were made by the women. These included: brass light fixtures, stained glass windows, pewter cross and candlesticks, silver and gold mosaic patterns for the walls, pews, sewn kneeling cushions for the chancel rail and even hand-woven rugs.

Miss Drummond was chosen to carve the pair of ecclesiastical doors for the entrance. It was her training in metal and wood carving that enabled her to accomplish this task. The result of her labors was a pair of handmade doors-every inch handmade, even the 500 nail heads that decorate the finished panels.

Drummond chose Honduras mahogany for the doors. The height of the doors is eight feet, two inches and five feet wide. In her Master Degree thesis she provided this description, "…Decoration of the doors consists of wood carving and applied metal…the design is a simple geometric pattern which harmonizes with the simple lines of the chapel building…Because of the horizontal layers of stone of the side walls adjoining the door, the pattern of carving has strong diagonals within long horizontal shapes…"

Reading additional portions of the thesis, one is struck by her creative thinking. Throughout the artistic process she was problem solving so that the function and purpose of the doors might stay true to the goal of "establishing harmony between function and design."

At last, the little chapel was completed and elaborate plans were made for a formal dedication to be held on November 1, 1939. Invited to attend was none other than Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the First Lady of the United States. Such an honor for the college and especially for the women art students!

Eleanor Roosevelt, a champion of women's rights, was also the featured guest speaker. During her remarks, she said, "May the use of the Chapel in the Woods be a blessing to you all…"

Roosevelt's words still ring true. The Little Chapel in the Woods has been a blessing to many for 80 years plus. And based upon the impact it's made and the recognition it's received, it will continue to do so.

The chapel has been named one of Texas' most outstanding architectural achievements. It seats 110 people including 15 seats in the balcony and is used for weddings, recitals and events sponsored by Texas Woman's University. It's located on the campus in Denton and is open to the public for viewing 9:00 am to 8:00 pm daily.

Note: Seen in one of the attached photos is Carmeta Drummond's daughter, Tina Sorrell (Christina Duvall), who graduated Jan 16, 1970, from SFASU, Bachelor of Science School of Liberal Arts.

If you have stories of amazing women contact Deborah Burkett, or at 903-752-7850 (cell)

The chapel.

Composite photos with Miss Drummond working on doors.

Doors standing outside about to enter the chapel.

November 1, 1939 Dedication Program.

Closed double doors seen from the outside as you enter the chapel.

Tina Sorrell with the doors her mother carved (as seen from the inside of the chapel).