Birth of a Labyrinth

It is quite the undertaking to make a labyrinth, any way you go about it. In the new Hall of the Christ Church Cathedral Ottawa, flooring installer Hugh Voogt created a replicate of the historic Chartres Labyrinth in Forbo linoleum. It was a challenging project to cut by hand the exacting geometry underlying the medieval labyrinth. Without any previous background on the history and geometry of the medieval labyrinth, Hugh did a remarkable job, and in the process, discovered the secrets of the system of the ancient geometers.

The floor was covered in the accent colour. The sacred orange bucket covered al pin which became the centre of a giant compass used to draw the circles of hte labyrinth.
The floor was covered in the accent colour. The sacred orange bucket covered a pin which became the centre of a giant compass used to draw the circles of the labyrinth.

 

The lines of the labyrinth are cut and glued in place.
The lines of the labyrinth are cut and glued in place.

 

 A large compass made to span the 21' radius of the labyrinth.
A large compass made to span the 21′ radius of the labyrinth.

 

Drawing and cutting the lunations around the outside of the labyirnth.
Drawing and cutting the lunations around the outside of the labyirnth.

 

The background material is layed on top of the accent lines and cut to fit exactly.
The background material is layed on top of the accent lines and cut to fit exactly.

 

Humbling work all on done on bended knee!
Humbling work all on done on bended knee!

 

Hugh Voogt and Assistance
Hugh Voogt and Assistance

The end result is a very pleasing and faithful reproduction of the 11th century labyrinth found in the floor of the Cathedral Church of Notre Dame in Chartres, France.

 

The Labyrinth at Christ Church Cathedral, Ottawa.
The finished Labyrinth at Christ Church Cathedral, Ottawa.

 

The rose pattern at the centre of the Chartes Labyrinth
A detail of the rose pattern at the centre of the  Labyrinth

Look for announcements of upcoming events and programs that will animate this ancient spiritual tool.

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Notes on Creativity

Creativity is an innate human capacity. In our culture, it is seen as the purview of artists but really everyone has the capacity for creativity. Why then don’t we teach all children that they are creative by nature and teach them how to recognize and access creativity?

One thing I have learned over my years of art making is to consciously remain open to new possibilities while realizing some version of my original idea.

Creating an outdoor temporary project of this nature has several phases.

Imagining and envisioning– that is the fun “pie in the sky” part where anything in possible.

Planning– getting serious and figuring out how to realize your big idea.

Resourcing– sourcing materials and technical assistance, and then with this new information going back and re-jigging the plan.

Realizing– time to roll up your sleeves for the “real work”.

Problem solving– When you ask yourself why you got into this in the first place as you go back to the drawing board when things don’t work out exactly as planned. Hopefully these are minor changes but not always.

Contingency Plan D, E and F
This is the most humbling phase but also the most invigorating as well as scary. At this point one is well beyond the realm of all that had been imagined in the beginning and you are in search of very specific solutions to issues and problems that have arisen.

This was where I found myself while building the Red Oak Labyrinth. The cord wood I had planned to use was going to be too expensive because I needed so much of it. I had estimated 3 or 4 cords @$120 per cord. Nope, too much. I appealed to the team of artists and others who were working with us for a suggestion of what might work. The answer came from a visitor who dropped by to view the progress of the project. He suggested using the Ash wood that had come down as a result of the Emerald Ash Borer infestation. We contacted the Farm to see what was available and were pointed to an enormous pile of huge hunks of dead Ash. With the solution in hand it became clear what the next steps were. I hired a wood technician to cut the logs into 16″ lengths and rented a gas powered log splitter.

The date was set, volunteers were invited and we began. I had laid out the guidelines with coloured string and then devised a giant compass around the trunk of the tree. A rope extended from the tree to the outer edge of the labyrinth with the path intervals marked out. The plan was to make one tour around the tree and lay out the wood as we went.

Volunteers move wheelbarrows of ash logs into place to form the labyrinth

Building a labyrinth always involves a slow start with little to show for the effort invested. The many volunteers who came to help out had very little to go by to know what it was they were creating. But by the end of the first day we had gotten about halfway around the tree and things were beginning to take shape.

Wheelbarrow full of Ash logs
Wheelbarrow full of split ash wood

Day two went a little better as by then we had an idea of how to do it. We made a last push to cut the remaining wood we required and fresh volunteers showed up. We finished mid-afternoon and I was impressed with the results. It looked better than I had imagined.

Last load of logs
Last load of logs!

Christine Mackie at CBC Ottawa Morning dropped by to find out what the project was all about. Click the link to hear the interview.

We would like to acknowledge funding support from the Ontario Arts Council,

an Agency of the Government of Ontario

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