Flip through the pages of the visitors log at Mildred B. Cooper Memorial Chapel in Bella Vista and you’ll see visitors from around the world - Japan, Chile, Hong Kong, Oregon, New England, California, Louisiana, Nevada, Michigan and more. While they may have come from very different places, the remarks they leave about the chapel are similar — beautiful, peaceful, amazing, lovely, awesome, calming, inspiring, gorgeous.
Their reactions to the chapel come from its setting and architecture. Designed by architects E. Fay Jones and Maurice Jennings, this steel and glass chapel is surrounded by towering pines and stately oaks. The glass walls embrace nature and let patterns of light and shadow create a subtle, yet ever-changing ambiance.
Inside, 15 main arches tower 48 feet high like the pointed Gothic arches of cathedrals from the Middle Ages. Within the main arches are three or four more arches resulting in a symmetrical style with repetitive elements. While the design was inspired by 14th century Europe, the building materials exemplify modern man. Thirty-one tons of steel join 4,460 square feet of glass. Its dimensions are 24 feet wide, 65 feet in length and 50 feet high at its highest exterior point.
Nestled on a wooded hilltop overlooking Lake Norwood, the combination of wood, stone and steel in various hues of brown and bronze blend perfectly with the Chapel’s natural surroundings. From the nature path that runs along the side of the chapel, it melds into the landscape so harmoniously that it almost disappears.
Cindy Adams, director of the chapel, says many of the people who visit are definitely interested in the architecture because it is a beautiful example of the organic architecture that Fay Jones was so noted for. Jones was an American architect and designer based out of Fayetteville, Ark. An apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright during his professional career, Jones is the only one of Wright's disciples to have received the AIA Gold Medal, the highest honor awarded by the American Institute of Architects.
Adams adds that a visit to the chapel is a full experience building from the anticipation of the curving walkway leading to the chapel, to the trail around the outside, to the inside of the chapel itself.
“We’ve seen a huge increase in the number of visitors over the last year,” says Adams. “Definitely, we have more weddings booked this year than last year.” More people are also attending other events such as the community concerts.
The chapel appeals to some local residents who visit the chapel every single day all the way to international travelers and those in locations in between. “Last year guests from over 40 foreign countries came here,” Adams explains.
The chapel is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, unless there is a private event. It can be reserved for special ceremonies such as weddings, renewal of vows, concerts, cultural events, baptisms and memorial services.
"The Mildred B. Cooper Chapel was designed as a memorial in honor of Mrs. Mildred B. Cooper, wife of John Cooper Sr, who in 1965 began developing Bella Vista into a pre-retirement community," says Adams. "Mrs. Cooper's family wanted to remember her with a special place that would embody her life. She loved nature, her God and her community. The chapel represents all of those aspects of her life and was dedicated in 1988 as a gift to the community. Because we now have visitors from around the world, the Cooper family is keenly aware that the chapel has become a gift that extends to guests far beyond Northwest Arkansas, and now to the state, country and even internationally.”
“The architecture and beauty of the chapel is timeless and will never go out of style," Adams adds.
There is no fee to visit the chapel, and Adams says the booking fee for events such as weddings or memorial services is very reasonable. Seating is about 120 persons.
By Jill Rohrbach