A House Divided, 2007
Found windsor chair, spalted maple, southern yellow pine, west african wenge, pigment. 36 x 17 x17 Inches.
The development of splits, rifts, and separations can be a frustrating reality in the life of objects and materials. But they can also be viewed as a metaphor for personal, societal, political, or ideological divides. I often utilize discarded materials that show evidences of traumatic splits and other stressful distortions. Naturally, I feel drawn to resolve this situation in a compelling way. I stay away from camouflaging the rift and instead, I tend to secure it elegantly while maintaining its visibility. One traditional method for reinforcing splits in functional objects is a butterfly key, a wooden “bridge” placed between the two banks of the split which successfully prevents it from opening further. The great George Nakashima was perhaps the first wood artist to celebrate the butterfly key technique. Instead of just using it as a structural remedy he elevated it to its rightful place as a design focal point.
The story of A House Divided began when I found an old Windsor chair that was afflicted with a massive destabilizing split along its seat. I considered several options for rehabilitation it and ultimately decided to leave the crack as is. But, I also knew that I had to take measures to secure the seat from splitting further. I hoped to create a practical solution that would allow the chair to remain a functional piece of furniture. Yet, the strong visual presence of the chairs’s rift began to shift my thinking into a metaphorical sphere. I began to contemplate seminal cultural and racial rifts in America and eventually tripped on the Mason-Dixon line. This arbitrary geographical divide, a line of separation between right and wrong, freedom and slavery, which eventually could not be sustained, became a theme I felt needed to be manifested in this piece. Resonating memories of quotes from the prophetic speeches of President Lincoln added to my fascination with this subject. In his poetic rhetoric, he equated the United States to a house afflicted by a division, coining the phrase: "A house divided against itself cannot stand".
It became clear what I wanted to do: To use this chair, and its divide, as a way to reflect on this great man, his assertions, and the historical tragedy of the nation. The artistic challenge was how to supper-impose a divided nation/house on a chair, and how to speak about the rift without being too simplistic, or abstract. To my aide came a lesson I leaned from my mentor, John Everdell, who taught me about the great scarf joint. Scarf joints are used to tie together shorter beams of wood to create a longer one. It is a joint that is literally brought together by a wedge. In an counterintuitive way it is actually the wedge that pulls the two parts of the joint closer.
So, I devised a plan that, through some straightforward craftsmanship became A House Divided. The rift/split is held together by a butterfly key designed to resemble a house; an articulated two part union held together by a tall wedge. The two keys/house parts are made from: Spalted Maple wood from the Northeastern corridor of the country, and southern yellow pine form the South. The wedge that holds the North and South together is made from dark Wenge wood, native of the West African shores where slave ships departed from. An embossed quote from Lincoln's "A house divided" speech is engraved on the seat while his immortal words, as well as the inner skin of the rift, are painted blood red.