Built early in Charles Eames’s career, St. Mary’s Catholic Church is one of only two churches that he designed in Arkansas. It was erected 1935 at 301 West Highland in Paragould, Arkansas.
Stylistically, St. Mary’s is a modern reinterpretation of Romanesque Revival architecture–a decision Charles made because it allowed him to fulfill the congregation’s desire for a traditional church within a designated budget.
St. Mary’s church made the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.
Charles spoke of this architectural project in his oral history interview with Virginia Stith of the St. Louis Parks and Recreation Department:
“…we did a lot of some churches in the South–one in Paragould, Arkansas and one in Helena, Arkansas.
Q: Are they still there?
Eames: Yes, they’re still in existence. That was a wild experience, doing these things. We would do the sculpture, the painting, the murals and all the glass. We did all the vestments–we’d get fabrics up in St. Louis, taken them down and make designs for the vestments. These were Italian Catholics in redneck Ku Klux Klan country, so you can imagine the sort of situation. I would supervise the women of the community, and they did marvelous things. I was a nut on the revival. While I had never been raised in the Catholic church, my mother’s family had been Catholic; and in the South there we did what later became very modern changes within the rubrics and ritual of the Church. Old Emil Frei was interested in that, and Emil got to be sort part of the scene.”
The complete interview between Charles Eames and Virginia Stith can be found in An Eames Anthology.
Speaking of the design in a 2015 newspaper interview, one congregant said, “When you walk in our church, to me, it feels like it opens its arms and welcomes you in. I’ve had people from other parishes tell me it just looks peaceful. Even when we lived away from here, when I walked into this church, I felt like I was coming home.”