Sunday, January 26, 2003

Designers merge their art with higher visions of faith

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

LOVELAND - A successful marriage of art and business requires a constant effort to maintain balance. So says Martha Schickel Dorff, who heads the design studio founded by her father in 1948. Not only does she try to keep those two elements in perspective; she must also balance artistic vision with client requirements.

Martha Schickel Dorff, an artist and architect and president of Schickel Design Co. in Loveland, looks at a glass sample that may be part of a stained glass design for a small chapel in the home of clients Mike and Dona Johnson of Loveland.
(Gary Landers photo)
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"My father used to say, `We're artists in business, we're not businessmen in art,'" said Ms. Dorff. "That's an important distinction, and one of which I'm more keenly aware since I've taken over the leadership of this company."

Schickel Design Co., based in Loveland, works with churches and other religious organizations as they plan new or renovated worship spaces. The firm's role may include facilities planning, liturgical consultation, design, and creation of custom furnishings and artwork. Ms. Dorff is artist and architect, working with her father and other artists and artisans, depending on a project's scope.

"We use art as a service, a means of expressing the best, making a connection between vision and people's everyday life," she explained. "And I'm trying to make a business out of that, where I'm helping to support my family."

As a child, said the artist, she was inspired by her parents and learned from watching her father work.

"They showed me a way to live that I found quite exciting on two levels: first, the relationship of work to family life; and second, the role of an artist in our society. I learned that an artist can also serve other people's visions of reality, and visions greater than oneself," she said.

  Some of Schickel Design Co.'s inspiration comes from the relationship between opposites found in religious faith, such as hierarchy and community, visible and invisible.
In the company's business life, that creative tension is present in balancing the integrity of artwork and the need to make a living, the urge for self-expression and the desire to reflect the client's vision.
But the relationship of opposites is present in the company's designs as well. The Chapel of the Holy Child at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center displays themes of suffering and resurrection. Adjoining spaces in the reflection room at Mercy Health Partners pair the themes of grief and joy.
The firm's work can be seen also at Ursuline Academy of Cincinnati, Christ our King Catholic Church and First Evangelical Lutheran Church. Major projects are under way in Louisville and the Columbus area.
University of Notre Dame Press recently published an illustrated history of the studio, Sacred Passion: the Art of William Schickel.
The studio is at 210 Harrison St. Information: 683-0188.
Before joining her father at Schickel Design Co., Ms. Dorff earned a fine arts degree at the University of Cincinnati and built her portfolio with work for design firms and a renovation architect. But once in the family business, she became convinced she needed more credentials.

"As Dad got older, I went back and got my master's in architecture at Miami and became a registered architect. It was becoming a liability not to have that. Both my degree and registration have given me increased credibility in the field and enabled me to do projects of greater scope."

William Schickel and his daughter have collaborated on a variety of projects in Ohio and Kentucky. Occasionally Ms. Dorff's brother, Martin Schickel, serves as project manager, ensuring - as he says - that work is done "on time, on budget, with everybody smiling." That, in itself, is a balancing act.

The company prides itself on listening carefully to clients' ideas, but it also is careful not to sacrifice its standards just to win a contract.

Said Ms. Dorff: "We have to feel free not to run after every job, every demand. We do have a role. The client has hired us because of our expertise, and we have to articulate that."

"You have to stick to the truth and be willing to assist the client in that effort," said Martin Schickel.

The new Chapel and Interfaith Sanctuary for Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center contains Ms. Dorff's abstract paintings and William Schickel's stained glass designs. In decorating and furnishing the worship space, Schickel Design worked with GBBN Architects and Messer Construction Co. to make the hospital's ideas come to life.

"In a nutshell, we as a department had a general vision for what we wanted to do, but no concrete artistic ideas," explained William Scrivener, the hospital's director of pastoral care.

"We were talking about taking the best, the spirit of the old chapel and using it to create a new chapel. We took it to them and to GBBN Architects.

"They listened very carefully to what we said and did a wonderful job of respecting our vision and putting their particular mark on it."


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