Stay with me, will you? It may not seem we’re heading anywhere at first, but I think we’ll get there in the end. If you find the trip unsatisfying, perhaps the scenery will suffice for the ride.
The wonderful Attic Nights of Aulus Gellius provides us this little tidbit:
“I remember that the philosopher Favorinus, when in the heat of the year he had retired to his host’s villa at Antium, and we had come from Rome to see him, discussed Pindar and Virgil somewhat in this way: “Virgil’s friends and associates,” said he, “in their memorials of his genius and character, say that he was wont to observe that he produced verses after the manner and fashion of a she-bear. For, as this beast produces its cub unformed and unfinished, and afterwards licks the product into shape and figure; so the results of his wits were at first rough-hewn and uncompleted, but afterwards, by re-handling and fashioning them, he gave them lineaments and countenance.’”
Forgetting for the moment the strict biology of this passage, it did bring to mind what has been occurring on our main floor last week and this. I spoke the last few times about our soffit, the main attraction you’ll see when you enter the main floor again this fall. While many of you are likely very handy, you’ll recall that I am not. If asked to fashion out of plywood the lowercase letter “l” or the Arabic numeral 1, I would surely fail. So, for the facile factotums among us, you may want to skip this post.
I wrote about the soffit before, but I did not go into detail about its construction. When I first saw the design, I figured it was a prefabrication of three or possibly four pieces that would fit together, some magical how, and — presto! — the soffit would be complete. But it took more than a week to construct and here’s why. I was right that it came in pieces. Not four, but six, and that refers not to large units, but to six small steel pieces that had to be cut and fashioned on site. If you look at the picture to the right, you can almost see the six parts. Each of these had to be cut and assembled by hand, more than 150 of them. Once put together, that had to be aligned to fit the curvature specified in the design.
In the picture to the left, you can almost make out a gentleman who appears taller than, say, the 7 and half-foot former NBA basketball star, Yao Ming. Well, he is and he isn’t. He is because he’s on what appears to be stilts. He isn’t because he stands only 5’9” at most. The extra two feet are provided by the metal stilts which allow him to walk from frame to frame and so avoid the up and down, moving, up and down, of a ladder. He makes the movements look easy, but I know they are not. The stilts fasten above the knee and act as prosthetic legs upon which he must move, taking care not to trip over either his metal feet or his real ones, or anything that might be on the floor, like a hammer or a nut or bolt.
And so, like the Attic Nights, and Virgil, and the she-bear licking her misshapen cubs into form, the Holden crew took these six, cut metal pieces and shaped them into a form that made the soffit. It had to be done this way because, done another, say in three or four large pieces, it would eventually lose its shape and begin to sag, or at least warp and buckle over time. Doing it this way, though tedious and time-consuming, makes certain, as certain as physics and gravity allow, that the curvature of the soffit holds its eye-pleasing shape.
I don’t know about you, but in this simple design that is not a Frank Lloyd Wright or anything else of that caliber, I nevertheless, find the creative process required to get to this point equally fascinating, even if to the trained eye it appears banausic.
Crafting a poem, painting a picture, or composing a symphony all rightly amaze us. But so also should the craftsmanship of those who create the places we inhabit, even if our habitation of them is everyday and so feels a little commonplace. The dandelions in my yard, or the clover that the honeybees visit one at a time are also commonplace, if you allow them to be. Maddeningly so, some might say. But maybe not. Dryden has a wonderful line where he reminds us that the sunrise is an everyday affair and so we miss its magisterial grandeur most of the time. Imagine, he says, if it only happened once in your lifetime.
And so the clover, the dandelion, or the mere building of a window or a door.