Designing the Display Case
In 2010, my wife and I had the great fortune to travel to China to adopt our beautiful daughter. While we got to know her, our guide took us to this amazing museum called the Chen Clan Temple in Guangzhou. A hundred years ago, it was a school for the children of the Chen clan, but today it had been turned into a museum with some beautiful wares for sale.
As we wondered through the various rooms, each specializing in different art forms, we came across a dimly lit space that housed silk tapestries. I was instantly drawn to the brightly colored orange kapok flowers glowing and shimmering in the light. They were electric. I continued moving around the room and saw others of equal beauty.
Being that we weren’t going to be back anytime soon, I suggested we bring one home. “But they’re all so beautiful,” I thought. “How does one choose?” So we considered our options and then decided on this little song bird.
About a year after returning home, I began thinking about our beautiful silk tapestry. I wanted to display it, but just couldn’t tack it on the dining room wall. So, I began rummaging through my photos of Asian architecture and soon realized it should be shown in a small display case with a pagoda style roof and upturned rafters. The body of the piece should “step back,” so as to minimize its projection into the room. And by building in this style, I could add a lot of architectural details, which I like to do.
Building the Case
A rough drawing and a few measurements allowed me to quickly fabricate the roof and the body of the piece. But when it came to the details, such as the lattice work on the front and the detailing above and below the main window, my progress slowed to a halt. So I went back to my reference materials, made some experimental shapes, and found that nothing developed. Months passed, and only when I reflected on my time in China did I realize that the people over there were inspired by nature, just as I am. By adjusting my thinking, I devised the wave forms which wraps around the top and bottom of the piece.
But the design for the lattice on the front still resisted. I couldn’t find the right combination of shapes. Over the next three years, I tried several times before it dawned on me to change my approach. Why was I limiting myself to right angles and straight sections? Why not add some curves? So I picked up an “S” shaped piece of wood from the junk pile and imagined what would happen if I included it. That was the solution. The curves softened the layout and everything fell into place. It pays to save your scraps.
Finishing the Piece
So by completing the lattice work, I was in the home stretch and it was time to add some color. This display case needed to be warm and inviting, so with a tiny paint brush I “spiced” it up with a little walnut dye. In some spots I added some red, thinking a pop of color would bring the piece to life. And so it did. I even flirted with gilding the lattice work, but decided against it. It might become too gaudy.
I completed the finishing task by adding a satin lacquer which gave it some “age and character,” as if I brought it back from China as well.
In the End
I have to say that this was a very challenging piece to build. My design options were endless. I could have gone in so many different directions. I guess it helps to have a few limits. None the less, I’m very happy with the results. Now I just have to redo my dining room! Ah, it never ends!