Finding stones in a mountain can be more difficult than it might sound. I recently found this out while looking for stones to make the Cornice Lamp.
The ideas behind the Cornice Lamp were manifold. I was initially interested in capturing the essence of the scholar's rocks that are so loved in China and Japan. These revered objects sit exuding the natures of wind, water and rock as monumental small sculptures that inspire works of painting and poetry. I also wanted to create a golden surface as a reflective texture for the lamp. The resulting piece should have a natural, elemental feel that did not have the feeling of having been chiseled or shaped by hand. The shaping had to be that of nature and millions of years of pressure. This would then exude the meeting point of nature through form and craft through the beauty of the application of gold leaf.
Close up of Cornice Lamp finished in gold leaf above and natural black marble, below.
As often happens, making the prototype was not so difficult. I found a dramatic rock, had its base and top cut perpendicular to the ground to allow it to stand and have the electrical fitting applied. Then added layers of lacquer and gold leaf. Voila! A gold nugget shaped by nature. The problem came when I wanted to find a second rock that could sit side-by-side with the first. Nature does not offer duplicates so easily. I had to go in search of rocks that worked.
Driving to Saraburi with the Khao Yai National Park in the distance.
Three of us set off for Saraburi- the land of stone. Approximately 3 hours north of Bangkok, Saraburi is visible from far away as it forms the Western flank of the Khao Yai National Park. This mountainous region has some of the densest jungles in Thailand and within it dwell herds of wild elephants, Gibbons, Macaques, Sambar deer and numerous bird and reptile species.
The mountains of the Saraburi area are low and forested. Some of those with rich veins of valuable rock have been quarried; mostly for black and white marble and granite that is used for Thailand's developing infrastructure and also for flooring. I visited a quarry that was made of black marble. Standing in its heart; a place that had once been solid rock, I felt a strange sense of loss. The mountain had been hallowed out leaving it naked and raw and the air still held the memory of the mass that had once stood there, watched by the nervous mountains around.
Saraburi rock quarry.
As the mountain is slowly opened, caves appear in its sides. These hidden caves are full of stalactites and rock curtains, with huge drops down into darkness. Entering one cave I realized that I was one of the only people who would ever see the view inside before its millennia of gradual creativity disappeared. As a material, the use of stone for construction inevitably requires quarries and a sizeable impact on the environment. In a country like Thailand that is developing and building better roads then using local resources is important.
Curtains of natural, ancient rock appear in the caves amidst the quarry.
During the day the quarry face is drilled and primed with dynamite and at 3pm the area is cleared and the explosives go off creating a huge slide of new broken, manageable rock. This rock is moved by bulldozers and heavy trucks to areas where the stones can be sorted for size. We started looking at one of these mountains of delivered rubble but after an hour of painful clambering we had a group that was not bad but all bore the signs of damage from moving or machine-breaking.
Searching for the ideal rock formation.
We waited until after 3pm and then went to the quarry face. The stones had a feeling of having been just born. There was a strong sulfurous smell mixed with other rich earthy notes. And there, in the blazing heat of the Thai countryside, in the broken heart of the mountain, were the stones, like dinosaur eggs, hot and beautiful. Their faces were layered and torn like the scarred faces of ancient cliffs. The skin was raw but intact and not rought to the touch. It was difficult to get them down from the scree slope but we found 10 wonderful stones, discarded our earlier finds and headed home to work on them.
We now make the Cornice Lamp in three finishes. The original gold which is applied to black marble; the black finish that is the marble itself having been cleaned and thinly lacquered, and a beautiful white crystalline marble that comes from the quarries of Sagyin in Burma; famous for its white Buddha's. The lamps are contemporary scholars rocks that catch the light and emit the potency of the mountain.
Cornice Lamp in gilded marble (top); polished and finished natural black marble (middle) and below in beautiful white crystalline marble from Burma.