The Ark of Hope
This was an exceptional project that led me in some new technical directions as well as making some interesting acquaintances. I was contacted by Mike Crane, a contractor for whom I had done a number of casework projects on behalf of Sally Linder, a Burlington artist whose studio he had built. She had in mind to have built a moveable vessel loosely based on the historical Ark of the Covenant to contain a copy of a document called the Earth Charter as well as a series of handmade books. The piece was to be unveiled at a celebration of the Earth Charter at Shelburne Farms here in Vermont on Sept.9,2011. The events in New York City two days later inspired Sally and two other women to begin walking with the Ark to the UN as a peace demonstration, and it arrived in New York aboard the sloop Clearwater at the end of the first of many journeys to come. A fuller story can be found here: The Ark of Hope website.
The Design Process
Sally Linder, a Burlington artist, came up with the basic design of the Ark, decorated the framework and painted the inserted panels, while I worked out the details and did the cabinetmaking and hardware and fabric artist Beth Haggart lined the box with a coiled serpent. I sourced a flawless plank of fiddleback European Sycamore that yielded all the lumber needed. The post and panel structure was fairly straightforward although the sloped lid side required some special clamping fixtures. The decorative aspects were a bit more challenging.
The four sides of the Ark depicted aspects of the earth related to the four compass points, the seasons, and the elements Earth, Air, Fire and Water, while the top represented Spirit and was decorated with numerous ecumenical symbols from the world’s religions. Sally asked me to make some appropriate inlays for the angled lid surfaces. Earth got an ammonite from Turkey, Fire a gold leaf and rosewood flame, air a Corian feather embedded in black epoxy, and Water an abalone and mother of pearl detail from Hokusai’s print “The Wave”, my first attempt at shell inlay.
The chest was meant to be carried with detachable poles inserted in brackets. The sycamore staves were tapered and spiral carved to represent unicorn horns, which turned out to be easier than anticipated. I made wooden bracket patterns to Sally’s design and had them cast in bronze, polished them up and bolted them to the posts. The poles were bound with leather where they met the brackets. The system has proved stout enough for travelling with the weight of the books inside.
Since its initial voyage, the Ark has travelled to more parts of the world than I, or perhaps you have. Its power to provoke was demonstrated when it was vandalized by a religious fanatic in Indiana. It has been back a couple of times for minor repairs, but has held up well overall. A very fun and interesting project, one that pushed me to develop some new skills to achieve a successful result.