LAKEWOOD — This year, the Diocese of Green Bay is marking its 150th jubilee. As part of that celebration, The Compass is exploring unique pieces of art in our local church.
One example of art that can be seen nowhere else is the wooden mosaic that adorns the back wall of the sanctuary in the church of St. Mary of the Lake in Lakewood. The parish is marking its centennial this year. While the present church was dedicated on Sept. 5, 1956, the wooden image of Christ amidst the wheat was commissioned in 1977 by Fr. Leo Lessard, who was then pastor.
Fr. Lessard also designed the floor to ceiling stained glass windows that adorn the gathering area of the church. These Old and New Testament windows contain figures of animals and other aspects of nature, which, as Fr. Lessard told The Compass in 2010, were purposely meant to be subtle to encourage contemplation of the images. (Fr. Lessard died on March 1 this year.)
The wooden mosaic is meant to show Christ as both human and as the grain of wheat that has fallen and been raised up (Jn 12:14). The 5-foot by 18-foot panel is made in the intarsia style, a wood inlay similar to the parquetry style often seen in furniture or flooring. Intarsia uses veneers of wood mounted on a backer panel. This style became very popular in this country in the 1980s, but was developed in ancient Egypt. It spread through Europe when parts of that continent were under Islamic control.
According to Gerry Doran, a parish Centennial Committee member, this image in the Lakewood church was originally designed for the St. Adalbert Mausoleum chapel in Niles, Ill. The artist was Felix Senger, who worked for Conrad Schmitt Studios of Milwaukee. The intarsia mosaic cost the parish $2,900.
Senger is noted for creating several mosaic glass and tile works, including the 30-foot risen Christ mosaic in the former Holy Name Seminary in Madison (now called Holy Name Heights).
The Lakewood mosaic is made from 1/28” pieces of veneer from seven types of wood: tupelo (a marsh tree), birch, curly maple, pecan, mahogany, teak, French walnut, rosewood and ebony. Doran said the work was made from full-size cartoon and cut patterns, similar to the way artists create stained glass. The entire image is framed with walnut.
Senger came from Germany in 1958 where he had held a teaching position along with running a stained-glass workshop at Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Arts and Crafts) in Berlin. His work can also be seen in the mural and glass windows of Nativity of Our Lord Church in Rhinelander. He died in 1994.
Gerry Doran of Lakewood contributed to this story.