Friday, December 31, 2010

Dec. 2010

During this particular visit there was much that I hoped to accomplish. Wife and father-in-law would soon be joining me for Christmas. Sarah's father, Jim Hutto was in for a long trip as he was driving up all the way from South Carolina. He was interested to see my progress in building a house for his daughter. With such an unnecessarily complicated structure, I feared he would suspect the man his daughter had married was a few screws short of having enough screws. On the another hand, I was curious to see how the house would handle multiple guests, which included Jim's dog, Porter and Sarah's two cats, Jerzy and Vincent. There were many interior components to finish for the place to be completely functional, many of which I would not have time to install before their visit during the following week. At the top of the list of interior projects to accomplish was to separate the bathroom from the bedroom with an enclosure of shelving that would serve both rooms. In the bedroom this would create a shelf for a small TV to sit just beyond the foot of the bed with an additional shelf for DVDs and whatever else. On the bathroom side, the shelves would serve as storage and the lower shelf would wrap around to become a sitting bench across from the shower stall. The entire enclosure would hug the chimney pipe. An exhaust fan, electrical outlets and a bathroom door were also in order to create a truly private place to poop.

These would be my "after dark" projects when it was too dark and cold to work outside. There were many other things I hoped to finish, and though I averaged about 12 hrs. of work a day, I was only able to meet a small fraction of my goals. In the general sense of this project I usually find that I set my sights too high and fall short. My pace is frantic and slow. Until I can improve on my approach I will always be disappointed with the results.
Throughout this entire project I continually return to one most important concern: sealing up the walls from the cold outside air. On especially cold evenings I can feel a rush of cold air coming off the landing from the kitchen even when my wood stove is burning hot. The reason for this is obvious as one entire wall of the kitchen is uninsulated and only roughly closed up. The other walls are only lightly insulated with no interior wall board. There are a series of steps that I must take in order to fix this tear in my envelope. First and foremost, it is absolutely essential that the kitchen have a new entryway. My plans include shifting the point of entry to the center of the camper, which I have already cut away, and pushing it out about eight feet to include a small mud room. Doing so will allow me to remove the current door which is warped and leaks like an incontinent old man and put an insulated wall in it's place, thus opening up the kitchen to more room and smoother ergonomics. For the new entryway to serve it's purpose, however, there must first be a roof over it. If you recall from earlier posts the plan for my house sculpture includes a sort of tower to be located next to the kitchen and directly above my proposed entryway. So as I see it, I must frame and sheath the tower and it's roof before I can even begin to construct the entry as it is all one unit sharing one roof. Time to don my snow pants do some work outside!
The weather was cold but sunny for several days as I slowly framed out the tower. I had already built the floor of the second level on my previous visit in November so I began there. My daylight was very limited so close to the Winter solstice. At such a northern latitude, the sun sets at about 3:30pm. At the end of the first day I set up lights to work in the dark but the cold became so uncomfortable after the sun had gone down that I elected to go inside and do interior work instead. Of that there was no shortage. So in the evenings I would start or continue a separate project indoors. To stay on task I began work on a passageway between the kitchen and the tower. There was a large opening that I had blocked temporarily with plywood on the high end of the kitchen wall where the top of the roof began it's downward slope. It was here that the kitchen shared a wall with the tower and I began to build an unusual looking doorway. The opening measured about 8' X 5' and was split into two squares by a vertical support. Roughly, I had two 32" squares to fill. I wanted to install a paned window in each, one of which could open and close from either side like a door. A built-in ladder would provide tree house-like access to the tower. Until the other half of the house was built (with doorway access) this would be the only entrance to the tower.

For more than a year now the kitchen has had an unfinished roof. It was my plan that this roof would connect with the northwestern wall of the tower. The tower however would be about four feet wider than the existing kitchen roof to encompass the extra space of the new entryway which would end up behind the kitchen. That meant that a section of about the size and shape of a dog house would need to be built to extend the roof and fill the remaining space. After that was taken care of, the foot-print of the tower would match the shape of the lower floor and every part of the first floor would be covered, albeit in an odd fashion. After framing and roofing the "dog house" I took a look at it from the ground. The addition thickened the look of the building but it needed a window to give it significance. It would serve no function but as house sculptures go it would be an interesting feature. It would look as though there was a floor between floors and it might be a really cool "secret room" for a kid. I had recently picked up an assortment of old fashioned paned windows at the Truro dump and picked one that would match the windows with which I planned to line the uppermost level of the tower.

I began framing out the walls of the tower in sections. During previous months I had done many drawings of the tower but as of yet had not arrived upon a finished plan. So I began with what I did know. An eight foot section of the southeastern wall would be a divider between the tower and the second floor of the future garage. I wanted there to be access between the two so I framed an opening for a doorway. The remaining four feet of that wall would stretch beyond the garage where a large double paned window would sit. The wall would also have a built-in supportive beam that would extend 16" beyond the frame at a height equal to the overhang of the kitchen's southwestern facing roof. The width between the beams would be about 6' where a large casement window would be the "eye" of the tower. The extensions would support the "brow" and the overhang of the tower's roof. To determine the height of the walls I climbed up onto the other roof (that housed the bedroom and bathroom) and tied a string to the peak. I then ran the string with a line-level attached over to the (future) tower and stood on a step ladder until the little bubble found it's place between the lines. From the string I ran my tape measure down to the floor and found that I would need at least an 8' wall for the top of it to meet the peak of the adjacent roof. When the other half of the house was complete, all of the wall heights would match up and an additional second floor roof could begin it's downward slope from above the peak of the existing one without looking forced into place.
I spent a lot of my time considering the overall look of the house with the tower in three dimensions. There really is a big difference between the drawing board in which the house is viewed dead on and the actual structure as it is seen by the observer from a variety of positions. As I assembled the frame I incorporated ideas from about 6 months worth of sketches. I thought I had fleshed out a good solid plan in my drawings but in the process of construction found that some ideas would not look good in real space or that previously rejected notions made sense when I considered the observer's point of view from all the different elevations of the surrounding property. The approach by car up the driveway was an unforeseen angle, as well as the all encompassing view from the tower's interior. The trees that stood nearby the house also affected my design. So as I built I made adjustments to my original plan.
On the short, south facing end of the tower, there protruded the overhang of the kitchen roof and the corresponding beam I had built into the opposite wall. The space in between was only wide enough to accommodate one full size window. Here is where I wanted to do something special because this section would be the focal point of the buildings exterior. The single elevated window would look out over the treetops like a great eye. This feature would give my house a sort of expression all it's own! It would live!
The eyes of a thing give a glimpse of the personality beyond. As a kid I loved the children's books of Bill Peet. I liked that the inanimate objects in his illustrations had life to them. Houses and buildings, cars and locomotives all had "eyes" that looked out into the world around them. As a kid it made sense to me but now I wonder: must a thing contain flesh and blood to be alive? Must it think and move of it's own accord?
As a lover of cars I have owned many older vehicles, mostly built in the sixties or early seventies before I was born. From each of these vehicles I could discern distinct personalities. The older the car, the more developed it's personality seemed. The mood of the car could be seen visually in the teeth of it's grill or the gaze of it's headlights and it could somehow be felt behind the wheel in the way it rambled down the road. The more time I spent with the vehicle the better I got to know it's idiosyncrasies. Under the circumstances of long cross country drives, when I spent every day for weeks with these cars, I could discern changes in their moods.
I want my House Sculpture to have a life of it's own. When an observer looks at it, I want it to look back at them.. and wink. The infusion of sentience maybe a universal goal in the work of every artist, whatever the medium. A great work of art must have life!
So what does that mean, to have life? Is it a success in creating the illusion of life or does it live on it's own? What constitutes life? Is it possible for a thing to have life but no soul?
They are age old questions that have long been under debate in the realms of philosophy and religion. The answers vary widely and exist only in the deep murky pools of abstraction. There are many systems of belief which claim to answer these questions with absolute confidence (a trait I am loathe to trust). Some religions claim to have every answer. The religion I grew up within taught that plants and animals had life but no soul. The soul was a privilege bestowed upon mankind by God. My parent's religion was a very hard lined Christian faith whose answers to everything was either black or white. Other sects of Christian faith do not have such inclusive ideas and do not claim to have every answer but there is still a general consensus that only humans and perhaps animals have souls. I suppose anyone who has been friends with an animal can come to their own conclusions about whether or not their friend has a soul.
Eastern religions have more open concepts of what is alive around us. Some believe that there is a spark of soul (or God) in all things from the lowliest pebble to the greatest of kings. It is the stage of the soul's development that determines it's stature of position, awareness, thought and movement.
To come to any conclusion or to even embark upon a path of understanding in this realm of thought one must be carefully observant of themselves and how they relate to the world around them. An arborist, for example, might have a few things to say about the souls of trees.
As all of this stuff concerns my House Sculpture, how am I to give this arrangement of lumber and nails a "life"? Honestly, I don't know. In terms of a piece of art, I believe I can give this structure an illusion of life or personality, but it will not have a soul until it is fulfilling it's purpose and housing a family. Hopefully, with a little help from the house, it will be a happy family.
Over the course of the week I was only able to finish the frame of the tower, not including it's roof. I had hoped to at least have a roof over it but that would have to wait. I turned my attention to the interior where much work had to be done to prepare for guests. The biggest job was cleaning and reorganizing. With several jobs going simultaneously, the interior of the house had become a maze of lumber, tools, salvaged parts and debris. After a few weeks of working in this fashion, my "bedroom" becomes smaller and smaller until I am sleeping on a mattress in a corner surrounded by junk that I need to climb over to get into bed. Every so often I must take some time to make an overall sweep of the house to make it a place where I can live and work again. The house was such a mess at this stage it took me two full days to clean and reorganize it.
By the time Sarah and her Dad arrived the place was ready to accommodate them. I had arranged the camper's decrepit old appliances into positions relative to where the appliances of the finished kitchen would sit which made it easier to use. I made the bedroom more comfortable by finishing the shelving unit that separated it from the bathroom and making a platform for the mattress which also created a little more storage space. In the bathroom I created more shelving and put in an exhaust fan. I rearranged the living room which I had been using as a tool shed and wood shop into a relatively uncluttered space where we could all hang out, and at the end of the day Jim could fold out the hid-a-bed.
We had a little trouble keeping the dog and cats separate, but for the most part the house worked out well. We spent Christmas Eve warm and comfortable while we opened presents. On Christmas Day we left the house to return to our home on Cape Cod.

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