Thursday, August 25, 2016

"Safe Danger," The Studio Path

Creating a Journey in a Garden Walk

"Kirstien Tower"

Phillip Johnson, the architect famous for his 'Glass House' also created on his Connecticut estate a monument to his college friend Lincoln Kirstien. Kirstien was a poet, connoisseur, philanthropist, and cultural figure in New York City. He helped found the New York City Ballet. Johnson's monument to his friend, the Kirstien Tower, is a steep stairway of stepping stones into the Heavens. A fitting tribute to a creative spirit!

In describing the tower, Johnson refers to the term 'Safe Danger.' Indeed the steep ascent requires stepping into the unknown and creates a feeling of excitement. Every venture into the creative world should. Thus the pathway to my studio, originally created by the need for an economical solution became a similar stairway into creative wonder. I don't think the Kirstien Tower was a direct inspiration so much as a wonderous connection to my own bit of 'Safe Danger.'

I got fascinated by blocks one day. Blocks, like a child playing with blocks, right? Do you suppose I’m in my second childhood? Anyhow, I took the concrete blocks and just piled them up in odds ways, which you’re not supposed to be able to do with concrete blocks and cantilevered them. And then I made out of the tower a stairway, a very dangerous stairway. You all should go up it. Because, again, you won’t go all the way; most people do not go all the way; I always go all the way. But there, on the top of that tower, there’s nothing to hang on and the steps are very high and the view is very nice but then you have to get down again. Have you ever climbed a mountain? You know how these ice picks are such fun because you can go straight up – then you have to come down, terrible.”-- Phillip Johnson [1.]

My granddaughter and I LOVE to play at blocks. We can sit on the floor for hours building Elsa's Ice Castle or Cair Paravel. We always pile our blocks in odd ways. That's the joy of it all! When I was about seven or eight, I built my first monument. My Aunt Molly had a wonderful live-in companion named Lizzie Harrison. Lizzie was the best marksman I ever knew. She had had a tough life but she had a sparkle in her eye... it came out when she'd teach us kids how to catch tadpoles or smallmouth bass in the pond. Lizzie had one more amazing talent... she made the BEST cookies a seven-year old boy ever tasted!

The shop, which was our family business that manufactured chicken coops, was near Aunt Molly's house and the men always brought over a huge pile of off-cuts so Aunt Molly and Lizzie had firewood! It towered into the sky and to a seven-year old boy it was the biggest blockpile in the world.

You can imagine my father's alarm when he saw me on the top of the thing! I went up there to build a Monument to Lizzie's Cookies! Someday Macaroni and Cheese will have to have its own monument, but that is a story for another day. In the end, I think dad admired my grit and Lizzie was certainly touched by my attempt to honor her cooking skills. I don't remember being punished for the adventure. And so, my life has continued to spin off a variety of attempts to honor those who are important to me. There are the wedding daisies planted by my lovely wife, to commemorate our daughter's wedding. There is the magic garden, celebrating LOVE and WONDER. There is the broken trellis that I leave because my son almost cleared it in a rather spectacular leap... and then there is the pathway.

The stepping-stone pavers were initially a temporary solution, but they took on their own special significance. When I was setting them in place, one of my wife's friends was visiting and her six-year old daughter wanted to 'help.' Little Emma's participation made the job more than a mundane task. I once had a wonderful assistant in the studio, a brilliant young artist/designer/writer named Kristina, who could bound up those irregular pavers in heels! That reminded me of Johnson's tower and 'safe danger!' The pathway originally was lined with pine trees which became a sort of magic forest that one could pass through. Any thoughts of a code-compliant proper walkway were long gone now. I grew to love the walkway and its 'safe danger.'

Safe, sensible access could be had by driving up to the gate at the other side of the studio anyway. As a non-public space it was grandfathered away from a lot of unnecessary overbuilding. But the last few years I was keeping the path clear but not really maintaining it. It was showing its age. In the evening the stones were not so visible anymore and the journey to the studio required a flashlight. As I tackled the overgrown studio grounds it soon became apparent that the old path needed to be brought back to life.

I worked the landscaping so light fell onto the path beneath the pines... rather like the glow in the Lantern Waste of Narnia. Now I could imagine my granddaughters having adventures there. I had read about making paver stones glow in the dark with special paint. I tried it. It was a resounding flop, but the addition of lighter paint to the edges of the pavers defined them nicely. The walk now was a passageway. It lead somewhere.

My mind wanders to a pathway at Oxford's Magdalen College, and an Autumn evening, September 20th,1931. C. S. Lewis took a walk there with J.R.R. Tolkien and another friend, Hugo Dyson along the Cherwell River in the Magdalen Fellow's Garden along a pathway known as Addison's Walk. Lewis had become an atheist, then a believer in the sense that he acknowledged the existence of God. Still, he was resistant to personal faith in Him. He and his friends talked of how they loved mythology and shared a lifelong fascination with it. It was sad, Lewis declared, “to think that classic tales of courage, beauty, sacrifice and virtue are all untrue and ultimately worthless.

Tolkien replied: “No, they are not lies. Myths contain great spiritual truths.”

In a letter to Arthur Greeves, Lewis remembers the evening:  

He (Dyson) stayed the night with me in College -I sleeping in in order to be able to talk far into the night as one could… Tolkien came too, and did not leave till 3 in the morning: and after seeing him out by the little postern on Magdalen bridge Dyson and I found still more to say to one another, strolling up and down the cloister of New Building, so that we did not get to bed till 4, It was really a memorable talk. We began (in Addison's walk just after dinner) on metaphor and myth --interrupted by a rush of wind which came so suddenly on the still, warm evening and sent so many leaves pattering down that we thought it was raining. We all held our breath, the other two appreciating the ecstasy of such a thing almost as you would. We continued (in my room) on Christianity: a good long satisfying talk in which I learned a lot: then discussed the difference between love and friendship - then finally drifted back to poetry and books.

On Sunday he came out here for lunch and Maureen and Minto and I (and Tykes) all motored him (Dyson –taught English at Reading University) to Reading - a very delightful drive with some lovely villages, and the autumn colours are here now.

I am so glad you have really enjoyed a Morris again. I had the same feeling about it as you, in a way, with this proviso - that I don't think Morris was conscious of the meaning either here or in any of his works, except ‘Love is Enough’ where the flame actually breaks through the smoke so to speak. I feel more and more that Morris has taught me things he did not understand himself. These hauntingly beautiful lands which somehow never satisfy, - this passion to escape from death plus the certainty that life owes all its charm to mortality ~ these push you on to the real thing because they fill you with desire and yet prove absolutely clearly that in Morris's world that desire cannot be satisfied.

The Macdonald conception of death - or, to speak more correctly, St Paul's - is really the answer to Morris: but I don't think I should have understood it without going through Morris. He is an unwilling witness to the truth. He shows you just how far you can go without knowing God, and that is far enough to force you… to go further.

(Lewis’ letter to Greeves dated Sept 22nd 1931)

"Kirstien Tower"

"Kirstien Tower"


Friday, May 27, 2016

PONTIFUS, The Bridge Builder's Tale

Now Available in Paperback Form from Amazon

The First Edition of 'PONTIFUS.'

Many of you prefer to read 'real' books. We understand that and now you may get your own copy on Amazon. Just click on the banner below to go to their store.

Mankind has always sought to open up a way to points unreached. First he wore paths to new hunting places. Gradually the paths became highways as trade ensued. Fords and ferries connected the paths across streams and rivers. The building of bridges stretched both the limits of human creativity and the materials employed. Simple logs and planks were laid across streams. Masons crafted stone arches that bridged rivers. Steel beams and cable were spun in the most amazing forms to bridge the largest bodies of water. John A. Roebling's Brooklyn Bridge, completed in 1883, came to symbolize the high art of bridge building. High gothic towers supported an elegant array of cables and stays that gracefully carried the roadway and a pedestrian promenade across the great East River. Throughout the centuries that followed, longer spans connected ever greater distances. But there were a few challenges that remained in the realm of imagination. They remained there, mostly because of geopolitical constraints, but psychological barriers as well. In fact, it was the consensus that something was "impossible" that often stood in the way of the attempt. Rupert Zimmerman would tell you that his earlier projects, far less ambitious than his latest, had almost all defied insurmountable odds. Yet they had been built! Driven to what many considered the end of the world by forces beyond his control, he found a way to go further... [1.]


Monday, March 28, 2016

The Brookwood Designs

The Kirchman Studio's Own Neighborhood

Double Rainbow over the studio window.




In the studio, Mr. Kirchman sought to create an environment that was conducive to inspiration.

The Kirchman Studio Brookwood Designs are of note because they are projects in the vicinity of and including the studio space. In addition to renovations to the existing house for aging in place, Mr. Kirchman designed the studio, a residence next door and a shop/work-van garage in the form of a barn. The designs are of note because they attempt to honor the region's agricultural heritage and a very nice stone church by the firm of T. J. Collins, visible from the neighborhood. The residence draws from the simplicity of German stone architecture. The stonework itself is by mason: Lewis Wright.

The Patterson Residence




The Barn (Shop and Garage)




The Studio










House in a House

Here the garage is converted into a small house within a house with its own discreet separate entrance. It also has its own kitchenette. The perfect solution for multi-generational living.

Barbour Colonnade

Barbour Portico

Barbour Portico

This was a planbook house built on the highest point in Brookwood. The builder turned the house so that the 'back' faced the road and the deck was sitting on skinny 4" x 4" posts. This is my design to add presence to the elevation facing the neighborhood.


Residences in Albemarle County
Greenwood Residence

This was also developed as a house within a house concept to house the client's elderly mother.

Crozet Addition

Substantial space and a garage are added to a small house. The massing is hidden in the trees and invisible from the front of the original house.

Staunton, Virginia Commercial Work
Enterprise Centre


Here an old strip shopping center was given a new parapet and a new trussed roof. The original flat roof was not salvageable so it was trussed over.

Law Offices from Gas Station

An old 'box' style gas station at the corner of Greenville Avenue and Richmond Road received a new facade and an office wing added to the rear.


Creating Connection with History
A Sense of Place

Stonework on the facade creates a sense of connection...

...with the historic architecture of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church by the firm of T. J. Collins.

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