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Northwest Travel 2

E. Fay Jones Chapels Hiding in Arkansas


As seasons change, we start to look for new places to explore. Many visitors travel to Northwest Arkansas for fall foliage, spend a few more weekends on a lake before Labor Day, or find new adventures in hidden spaces.

Arkansas has several beautiful chapels that make great places for reflection, host beautiful events like weddings, and offer the perfect venue for connecting with nature. This last point is especially true of the chapels designed by architect E. Fay Jones.

E. Fay Jones, American Architect
Photo by Don House, courtesy of Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville

Who is E. Fay Jones?

E. Fay Jones apprenticed for renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright and taught at the University of Arkansas School of Architecture for 37 years. In 1990, Jones received the AIA Gold Medal, the highest honor awarded by the American Institute of Architects.

Jones was born in Pine Bluff and lived in Little Rock through early childhood until his family settled in El Dorado. Jones began his interest in buildings by trying his first designs on backyard treehouses. As a teenager, he saw a film about the design and construction of the Johnson Wax Headquarters, the administration building for the S.C. Johnson company designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. This first introduction to Wright’s work placed a hook in him that would later change his career trajectory.

Building a Career

Following his service in World War II, Jones returned to Little Rock and began drafting for an architectural engineering firm. In 1946, John G. Williams started a new architecture program at the University of Arkansas, and E. Fay Jones was among the first students.

He continued his graduate studies at Rice University in Houston, earning a fellowship role that allowed him to attend a national conference and a fateful meeting with Frank Lloyd Wright. Through their first encounter, the two spent 30 minutes one-on-one discussing Wright’s architectural design philosophy, increasing their long-term relationship.

After a few years teaching at the University of Oklahoma, Jones established a private practice in the Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas and began teaching at his alma mater, later serving as the dean of the School of Architecture, which now bears his name.

Thorncrown Chapel, E. Fay Jones design in Eureka Springs, Arkansas

What is unique about an E. Fay Jones design?

While Jones used the principles he learned from collegiate mentors and Wright, he developed a modern style using traditional materials found in the Ozark region that blurred the boundaries of building and nature. He designed homes, buildings and chapels with steel beam structures, glassed ceilings, and windows.

Through his visionary approach, Jones understood that buildings are not just functional entities but opportunities to create lasting works of art. His designs embraced the natural world, incorporating elements that honored the surrounding forests, hills and streams. By thoughtfully integrating architectural forms with the existing landscape, Jones crafted spaces that felt like they had always belonged, seamlessly blending the artificial with the organic.

… it’s more than mere construction or mere building or the technical putting together of things. It’s more than mere accommodation or, certainly not just stylistic notions; it must transcend these things, and it’s something that the human spirit has to be involved with.

This meticulous process resulted in a series of stunning structures that emerged from the depths of the forest, their forms echoing the surrounding trees and their materials mirroring the earthy palette of nature. Jones’ masterpieces blended so seamlessly with their surroundings that it became difficult to distinguish where the architecture ended, and nature began. Walls of glass dissolved barriers between the interior and exterior, connecting occupants to the ever-changing beauty of the landscape. Rooftops adorned with living greenery transformed buildings into extensions of the surrounding environment.

By utilizing locally sourced materials and drawing upon passive design strategies, Jones ensured that his buildings had minimal impact on the surrounding ecosystem. This commitment to sustainability was yet another testament to Jones’ deep love for nature and his belief in the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.

Arkansas Chapels Designed by E. Fay Jones

Each of Jones’ architectural masterpieces tells a unique story of the transformative power of architecture and evokes a sense of awe and wonder. These structures provide functional spaces for human interaction and serve as gateways to experiencing nature in all its glory.

  • Thorncrown Chapel | Eureka Springs – his first chapel and an award-winning architectural masterpiece. A retired teacher commissioned the chapel as a non-denominational pilgrimage site for rest and meditation.
  • Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel | Bella Vista – designed as a memorial gift to celebrate God and His creation.
  • Anthony Chapel | Hot Springs – part of the grounds of Garvan Woodland Gardens and a partnership project with Maurice Jennings.

Jones designed homes, memorials, fountains and meditative spaces throughout Arkansas. The archives at the University of Arkansas hold the Fay Jones papers collection, including his plans and design work for many of these structures.

What other chapels are in Arkansas?

Today, E. Fay Jones’ legacy inspires architects and designers to embrace nature as their ultimate muse. His visionary approach serves as a reminder that buildings can be more than just structures; they can be works of art that enhance and embrace the natural world.

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Keisha (Pittman) McKinney lives in Northwest Arkansas with her chicken man and break-dancing son. Keisha is passionate about connecting people and building community, seeking solutions to the everyday big and small things, and encouraging others through the mundane, hard, and typical that life often brings. She put her communications background to work as a former Non-profit Executive Director, college recruiter and fundraiser, small business trainer, and Digital Media Director at a large church in Northwest Arkansas. Now, she is using those experiences through McKinney Media Solutions and her blog @bigpittstop, which includes daily adventures, cooking escapades, #bigsisterchats, the social justice cases on her heart, and all that she is learning as a #boymom! Keisha loves to feed birds, read the stack on her nightstand, do dollar store crafts, cook recipes from her Pinterest boards, and chase everyday adventures on her Arkansas bucket list.

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2 responses to “E. Fay Jones Chapels Hiding in Arkansas”

  1. […] Chapel was built by renowned architect E. Fay Jones and is nestled in a quiet wooded area in Eureka Springs. Constructed of wood, native stone and over […]

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