Chair #1

The architect stood looming over his desk, his sturdy frame in silhouette against an enormous window. Pencil in hand, he thought about a chair. “It is in the nature of man to want to design something he can be remembered for. A bridge. A cathedral. A great ship. But what of the spoon or the humble hatstand? What of the chair?” The architect tried to imagine the first chair, that first seat used to raise someone from off the ground. Would it have been a stool or a throne? Practical or political? And who would have been its designer? He felt suddenly that it had been a woman. That seemed reasonable somehow. He could see a man coming up with the idea of the cart or an arch, but not a chair. There is something sympathetic about a chair. One makes chairs with another’s well being in mind. That mixture of practicality and sentimentality made it impossible for him to think of the idea of a chair having come first from the imagination of a man. A chair is supportive, uplifting. That first chair would have been designed with tired bodies in mind, of the pains and joys it would need to endure. He tried to picture this woman in his mind’s eye but could not get beyond the image of his own wife. She could have invented the chair. Yes, and it would have been comfortable and beautiful. But would she have also been the one to build it? That seemed less likely somehow. He now imagined a luxuriant forest by some high mountains, pictured those first hands gripping the axe, skin drawn tightly over knuckle and tendon, forearms strained, the wide callused fingertips and generous palms. Now he saw them working the saw, strained as the long blade kept a steady rhythm through the wood. Now the drill, the crudely formed bit cranking round and round, drawing out the wood in little heaps of fleshy curls. Now the mallet, some hefty bit of wood, some beloved knot or burl, carved to suit his hand. Man would have taken her idea and used it to build a throne. He would have taken the hospitality out of it, made it an offering to the hierarchy. A tribal Chief would have seen the significance of that first chair. Would it have been comfortable? Surely its height and bearing would have been of primary concern. Was any throne supposed to be comfortable?

Man was entering a modern age, and the architect wanted to be the one to determine how that age should look. He believed in progress. He believed in the usefulness of machines and factories, but not at the expense of beauty. To forsake aesthetics would be to sacrifice a part of the soul. Without the beauty of its flower, the rose would remain unfulfilled, no matter how tall it got or how lush and green its leaves became. In fact, without the beauty of its flower, could one even call it a rose?

“Everything has some meaning beyond that of its utility,” he mused. “Everyday objects change the way we feel about a space, about the times we live in. They inspire, set the tone of what’s to come. Everyday objects, by their very virtue of being found everywhere, are so much more powerful than we realize. Alter their meaning, how we think and feel about them, and you can change man’s view of the world. A chair could mean, and do, so much more!”

And with that, he began to move his pencil across the page. Soon the enormous desk would be littered with drawings. He would do more than simply set down the lines and make clear the proportions. He would make sure they were beautiful to look at, rendering them in ink and watercolours until the drawings themselves became works of art. Whether it was a spoon, a chair or the facade of an entire building, the attention to making it beautiful was paramount. Everything needed to fulfill its highest artistic potential. “It must express more than just power in its proportions. It must reach for the heavens yet remain connected solidly with the earth. For this sort of beauty is not intended for starry-eyed dreamers, but for those who strive to fulfill their own destinies. It must appear immovable, monolithic. There must be something divine in its bearing, something of the cathedral about it! A tower of light and shadow. Yet there must also be something delicate about it, even if that delicacy is only in the subtleties of its details. And he thought of those wood and paper screens the Japanese use to such marvelous effect. Yes, the Japanese understood beauty.  They understood the soul of their materials, how even the most worn down of objects carries inside it the initial force of the sap climbing from the earth. Moreover, the Japanese understood the power of emptiness, the extraordinary art of making “nothing” beautiful. 

A chair then! A throne for the Everyman. Beauty. Functionality. Dignity. These are the pillars! Comfort…? That may be sacrificed, if necessary. Call it an offering. A very small price to pay, wouldn’t you agree? After all, it is unhealthy to be overly comfortable. Great things do not come about by those who sit around for too long.

~ by calebnrogers on January 24, 2021.

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