In 2013, Laity Lodge, nestled along the Frio River in Texas’s Hill Country, commissioned Seattle artist Roger Feldman to construct a permanent, site-specific art installation, the culmination of months of planning and years of dreaming of such a project. The installation, titled Threshold, consists of three interconnected chiseled limestone monoliths, some towering up to 15 feet high, and was documented in an eight-minute film, Syncopated, by Nathan Clarke. An accompanying shorter film provides further artist insights; yet, for those of us who enjoy the insider’s details, a follow-up conversation on getting from here to there was in order. What follows is a behind-the-scenes look at Feldman’s process—in his own words—of getting from sketch to maquette to completed construction.
Like many other artists, I keep sketchbooks. Mine are combinations of thoughts, notes, cool phrases, imaginative and conceptual sketches, etc. I collect fragments, including interesting ideas from books, conversations, and even sermons. I draw during church services; this helps me process the content. It is from these ideas that maquettes emerge.
Maquette is a French word derived from the Italian word for sketch, macchietta. When a 2-D sketch catches my attention, I move to working with small mat board maquettes (3-D scale models), at approximately 4 x 4 x 4 inches in scale. I usually complete six to eight maquettes of a concept, adjusting various proportions until I land on two ideas to pursue on a larger scale. These larger pieces are often in the range of 10 x 10 x 10 inches constructed out of foam core. In the process, I determine the appropriate scale for my work—usually a quarter, three-eighths, or half-inch scale. After these are refined, I move on to building the piece full scale. Sometimes I spend even more time and do a thorough maquette out of wood, which then becomes the basis for the finished piece.
In the case of the Threshold project, after receiving the invitation to develop maquettes and move forward with the project, I began dreaming about possibilities. As I left Laity after attending a conference, one staff member proposed the idea of doing something on the Trinity. Realizing I’d never done anything specifically about the Trinity before, I considered how I might address the concept of three in one, which led to creating small maquettes with three components intersecting to make a larger structure.
Construction drawings and a working maquette:
Semi-circular walls have been part of my visual vocabulary since the mid-1980s, so I began with the semi-circular walls. That led to developing a tower that could be entered, and the whole notion of an individual experience coupled with a communal experience became central to the piece. Of seven fully developed maquettes, the selected design features two semi-circular walls and a tower. In an effort to achieve internal mathematical harmony, all components contain diameters which are multiples of three: a six-foot diameter (15’ tall) tower, a 15-foot diameter wall, and a 12-foot diameter wall for a community bench.
Usually, I have a site in mind for the piece, whether a gallery or an outdoor location. For an interior space, I try to visit the site to gather dimensions and create a scale model of the gallery and then place the maquettes in the space to visualize how they will look full-scale. If the piece is an outdoor installation, and I can’t get there before construction begins, I bring the maquette on the plane with me, even resorting to custom-designing foam core boxes to protect the maquettes for their stowage under my seat. (One time, for an installation in Austria, I spent my first afternoon on site painstakingly re-gluing a maquette that I’d dissembled for the trip.) Once on site, I place the maquette in the landscape to determine the best position in the space before beginning construction.
I take my measurements off the maquette with a ruler that I construct out of mat board for each particular piece and write dimensions directly on the foam core maquette, numbering the walls or forms as I go. With this accurate information, as I lay out walls and components for the piece, I plan distances between walls or barriers and replicate the maquette at full scale. Then construction begins. For the Threshold installation, I incorporated a symbolic arrangement of space and forms facing east, almost in a parallel line with the city of Jerusalem. A lone window in the tower faces south, and light travels in toward a single seat in the tower during the day and, at various times of year, rests directly on the seat. My intent was to create an internally harmonious work that symbolizes the ethos of the Laity Lodge, resulting in a form that is organic, yet geometric, inviting, safe, interactive and communal—a haven for spiritual exploration and contemplation.
Roger Feldman received his B.A. from the University of Washington and his M.F.A. in Sculpture at Claremont Graduate University in Southern California. His installations have been exhibited since the late 1970’s, and he received an Individual Artist NEA Fellowship in 1986. His site-specific installations and maquettes have been exhibited in six countries and throughout the United States, with permanent site-specific installations in Scotland, Canada, Texas, and Washington State.