Peace sculpture advances vision for Michigan Baha’i property
More than a century ago, Muskegon, Michigan, was seen as a possible place to build the Baha’i House of Worship for North America. That singular honor eventually went to Wilmette, Illinois.
But a Baha’i-owned property in Muskegon, only blocks from a Lake Michigan inlet, has evolved in its own purpose. This past summer saw the dedication of a peace sculpture to enhance a meditation garden established two decades ago.
For now, local Baha’is foresee townspeople using the Baha’i Reflection Gardens for prayers and perhaps as a setting for wedding vows.
“That is certainly not where things will stop,” noted a welcoming message on behalf of the Baha’i community at the ceremony to dedicate the sculpture. The future vision includes building of a local Baha’i Center and other community developments, as conditions allow.
About 160 people marveled at the striking metal piece as they gathered July 8 to recommit to the site’s purpose as a place of solace and a nascent hub for community-building activities in the west Michigan town of 38,000.
State Rep. Holly Hughes assisted with the dedication. Remarks by members of national and regional Baha’i institutions led to the reading of a letter written for the occasion by the Universal House of Justice, the global governing council of the Baha’i Faith.
A local Baha’i chanted a prayer in Persian, and South Dakota Baha’i Kevin Locke gave blessings in Lakota before performing on native flute and delighting attendees with his hoop dancing.
Baha’i ownership of the property goes back to 1906, when Chicago Baha’is purchased it to assist a widow who was raising three grandchildren and holding informative meetings about the Faith.
The deed passed in 1909 to the national committee established to raise funds for the Baha’i Temple that ultimately was built in Wilmette. In 1945 the deed was transferred to the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Muskegon, which was formed that year to steer the local Baha’i community.
Several times over the decades, the guidance of the World Center of the Faith was sought as to the site’s future. At each juncture, local Baha’is were advised to retain ownership and wait for the right time to develop the property. In 2013, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States assumed ownership.
In 2016, caretakers decided to add an object to rise above ground level and attract attention to this very special Baha’i property. They wanted art.
A design committee put together a set of guidelines that took the neighborhood’s features into account, as well as the National Assembly’s desires and local Baha’is’ ideas about what might spark interest in the Faith. Sie Gal of Vancouver, British Columbia, won an international competition in 2017 to design the artwork.
Shaping of the sculpture then commenced, with high-pressure water cutting of stainless steel. The timetable for completion was advanced considerably when the designer returned his prize money. A local Baha’i community also gave a generous donation to the sculpture fund.
Finishing touches included placement of river stones, topsoil and ground cover. The base and concrete were painted to match the artist’s rendering.
So that on a fine July day the Baha’is could welcome townspeople to the newly enhanced Baha’i Reflection Gardens and invite them to “use this land as a place for quiet prayer and meditation.”