Regen Creates Symbolic, Handmade Basin for Official Presidential Inauguration Ceremony

Dr. Jones receiving Bowl
Photo by Wade Payne (

Art piece used in ceremony to represent University’s commitment to service

As Dr. Greg Jones was officially inaugurated as the newest president of Belmont University on November 5, one symbol used in the ceremony stood out for its significance to the Belmont community – a large wooden basin and cloth. Belmont Watkins College of Art Professor Doug Regen hand crafted the large, layered wooden bowl that was presented to Jones during the ceremony, symbolizing the gesture of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet.

The idea of a basin and cloth originated with Vice President for Administration and University Counsel Dr. Jason Rogers, signifying Dr. Jones’s commitment to service and humility, and replaced the original symbolic mace.

Regen explained that the idea of serving others with humility is at the core of Belmont’s beliefs. “Being asked to create such a symbolic part of the Inauguration Ceremony and knowing that it will represent humility and service to future generations is quite humbling,” he said.

Dr. Jones holding bowl during inauguration
(Wade Payne/

The bowl is made of layers of various wood species: Birch, Poplar, Maple, Mahogany, Elm, Black Walnut, Oak and raw edge Cherry. These varieties differ many ways–color, strength and other qualities, representing the diversity of Belmont students, faculty and staff.

The hammered precious metal interior represents how humans remain malleable and can be shaped and adorned. The basin also features three metal forged nails representing the pain of the crucifixion and the promise of love and forgiveness.

In the artist statement about the piece, Regen wrote, “The imperfections in the wood that are clearly evident symbolize the imperfections in all of us. Keeping the raw edge/bark on the top cherry band, reminds us of how rough and unrefined we can be as we grow and learn. It exemplifies the brokenness of all of us and how we are refined in spirit as we grow in faith. From a Belmont University perspective, this exemplifies how we train students as they hone their skills in their area of study.”

The Process: Building the Bowl

A Q&A with Doug Regen on his artistic process:

What was your process like?

When Greg shared his vision for wanting something special and meaningful for the inauguration, I started as I always do – sketching. Knowing that it would be presented in a large ceremony, I thought about the scale of the bowl. I didn’t want it to look like a soup bowl. I also knew I did not want it to be perfect; it needed to look handmade and have a bit of history to it. I sent Greg and Susan a sketch of what I was thinking, and with their approval and excitement, I set to selecting my materials.

What are the differences in the woods, and how did you select them?

Having worked with a variety of woods as a furniture designer, I was definitely familiar with the hierarchy of what people perceived as the finest woods. While I wanted to have some of the finer ones – Mahogany, Black Walnut, Maple, and Cherry – I also wanted to use some of the lesser valued woods. Birch, Oak and Poplar to showcase how all these woods can work in harmony to create something beautiful.

What was it like to create the piece?

Once I selected my species, I cut them into circles and thought about the layers and how they would work together. I knew I wanted the raw edge cherry that I had to be the top edge of the bowl. I then started stacking the layers to see what felt right. I put the birch plywood as the bottom, symbolizing that the least of the wood species is what everything else built upon.

Next step was gluing the rings together then grinding and sanding them to blend together into the bowl shape I wanted. At this stage, I started shaping the hammered metal interior.

The idea of the iron forged nail heads embedded into the side of the bowl came as the whole process unfolded. Thats part of what I love about the creative process, that moment when an idea is sparked, and that detail just makes the final bowl more special.

Have you made a piece like this before?

I’m fairly well known for my one-of-a-kind creations, and this was definitely a first for me. For that reason, there will never be another like it.