How the Light Gets In

By Claire Danaher

When Pastor Manisha asked me in mid-October to build something for the All Saint’s service, I said “Absolutely!” without knowing any of the details. That’s what you do when Pastor Manisha calls: you say “Yes.”  “What do you want?” came next.  She asked for something made from wood and shaped like a cross that could hold sand, into which people would place candles while the necrology was read. “Let me think about that,” I bargained. I tried to imagine what it would look like, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around how the cross shape would work. While it’s a meaningful shape, I didn’t see how it would work artistically. Worrying about it, but not in a bad way, kept me awake at night and woke me in the morning. So a couple of weeks ago, I sat in a front pew after church, listening to the organ postlude, and closed my eyes. An idea arrived. I went home and made a model of it from 3×5 cards.

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I sent a picture of it to Pastor Manisha and she immediately called to say that she has long imagined that the saints of God were like a palace of glowing light. That was an exciting moment, to know that we shared a similar vision. She gave the design the green light, so it was time to start making sawdust. Kellie Herdade drove me to Home Depot in her pickup truck to buy construction-grade plywood, which is not a particularly elegant material. I sliced up four sheets, mitered the edges so that the plywood end grain wouldn’t show when the sides were put together, and glued up a whole bunch of rectangular tubes, a couple at a time, clamping them while they dried.

Next came a couple of coats of sealer and primer to prepare the wood surface to accept paint. Then I cut the tubes to the heights I wanted and arranged them in various formations. It took a while to get the look I wanted.

Thanks to a couple of YouTube videos, I learned out how to layer multiple coats of paint so that the surface looked like stone.

I made “floors” a few inches from the top to hold the sand, caulked the joints to keep the sand in, and ironed on veneer edge banding to cover the plywood end grain that was still visible from the top.

A bit more paint and a few spritzes of black spray paint to create a smoky, aged effect, and it was time to turn off the 80s music channel I was blasting in my workshop, take everything over to the church and assemble it in place. The last step was to fill the tops with sand. From request to completion, it had been about five weeks.

This weekend, during our four services which culminated in tonight’s service that included the choir and an orchestra doing Durufle’s Requiem, probably four hundred people came forward to light a candle and place it in the sand while they remembered someone they loved who has died. It was incredibly moving, incredibly beautiful, and incredibly meaningful for me to be part of.

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  1. Such an amazing process by a gifted artist and woodworker. One can only hope that this is the beginning of more moving sculptures and installations.

  2. Clare, so happy you shared the exquisite piece you designed and built for the moving presentation of memory candles. Even from home this was touching and very moving.

  3. Claire, is there any end to your talents? Your artwork was both beautiful and functional as a memorial. I appreciate your sharing the construction methods. The faux painting to give it the look of stone was exceptional. The structure reminded me of basalt columns. Like these https://www.treehugger.com/strangest-basalt-column-landscapes-earth-4869700 The lit candles placed into the piece by mourners was especially poignant. Thank you for sharing your gifts.

  4. Claire, it was the perfect visual to accompany the magnificent music..a blend of two extraordinary works of art uplifting all who attended whether in person or on line..thank you…

  5. This project has an amazing effect, and is one that seems to be very much at home in our Gothic surroundings. Great workmomanship too. Bravo, Claire!

  6. What an exquisite story of Claire‘s admirable pursuit of artistic solutions and beautiful completion of this sculpture, which was such a light amongst our sad thoughts. Thank you for sharing this!

  7. It would be fitting if this were to become a permanent tradition. The Biblical connections are so numerous, and how the sculpture is brought to life by the congregation is memorable. (Perhaps a surrogate candle placer could be employed to include the Church at Home community?)

  8. This service moved me to tears. By looking at this amazing sculpture you could see the many glowing flames that symbolized our dear departed loved ones. Thank you for the morning and evening’s touching services.

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