Furniture Maker Does Divine Work for Church

Saturday, September 24, 1994 | Posted by Michael Colca

Walter Brewer / Austin American-Statesman

When the calling came, custom furniture builder Michael Colca was reluctant to shift his creative direction and turn his attention to the altar of a tornado-torn church in Plainfield, Ill. He really wanted to develop his own line of furniture for homes. But he responded to a congregation in need and it turned out to be a match made in heaven.

Now, Colca has completed his largest single project (in dollar volume) and the parishioners of St. Mary Immaculate Parish have proclaimed his inspiration and artwork divine.
Colca's work consists of five pieces--an altar, two lecterns and two chairs. While the spiritual nature of altar furniture may conjure images of ornate, elaborate carvings, these pieces don't fit that mold.

The wood's beauty stands out as one of the furniture's most striking features. Long, smooth curves melt together in designs that look as if they were created in stretched or molded clay rather than carved wood.

"It's very sculptural, art nouveau stuff," Colca says. "There are lots of free-flowing lines. There are no straight lines. It's massive, very heavy."

Colca says he only had a drawing of the church and a floor plan for the altar to guide him in his design creation. He also drew on his own spiritual roots.

"I was raised Catholic, so I had all the archetypal information," he says. "It was pretty easy to know what I should communicate and what the intent should be. It was one of those matches that was magical. They got the first sketches and said, 'This is perfect.'"

Colca started cutting the wood in April of 1993 and started the design work in November. He began with a scale model (1 inch = 1 foot). He still has that to show for his work.
"The main altar is the centerpiece," Colca says. "It's a giant parabolic shape. It's real sculptural. There are also two chairs. One is either the bishop's chair or presider's chair; it's a big chair that sits on the altar. It's bigger than life. Then there's the deacon's chair; it's the lesser chair. It's a small stool-like chair. Then there's what they call the ambo. I've always known it as a podium or lectern. Finally, there's the cantor's lectern or podium the choir leader uses."

While this was a rewarding project for Colca he almost didn't undertake it. He really wanted to keep his focus on developing his own line of furniture, instead of only building furniture to customers' specifications. Colca has been showing his custom furniture at Whit Hanks and that's where the parishioners of St. Mary Immaculate found him.

"One of the parishioners was through Whit Hanks at Easter a year ago," Colca says. "they started talking to us and said 'Boy, we sure admire your work. I wish you could do some drawings of what we want.' I did the drawings last year and they went nuts over them."

When they asked him to undertake the project, Colca wasn't sure he wanted to do it. "I tried to discourage them because I felt like it would be a distraction. I was reluctant at the start."
Now that's it's done, Colca has the satisfaction of knowing his work will be appreciated for years to come.