I remember sitting in those pews, starting up at that altar and thinking for hours at times.
Things don’t always go as planned. A series of three short films record the making and the marking of the Last Supper Table. You’ve seen the first and the next two will follow, ending with a complete table and that table’s departure to Grand Rapids. The first film is general -the second and third are more personal. My interview is last. The intention was that I would return to the Catholic church that I knew as a child – the one where I was educated from kindergarten through eighth grade; the one that was blocks away from my family home in Detroit’s west side; the one where I attended mass every Friday (add in Wednesdays during Lent); the one that introduced me to the vibrant stories of the bible; the one that taught me that it was just fine to question your faith in things so that you knew you were doing the right thing. Whether or not I realized it while I was there, that environment shaped the kind of student, spiritual being, and story-teller that I was to become.
Fast forward. I reached out to the church to ask we can film there and my request was denied. This was days ago but I just can’t shake it. The fact is that, beyond my disappointment, I feel kind of lost. Even though it’s been over twenty-three years since I’ve entered that church, somehow I feel like a piece of my childhood is inaccessible. Now, I need to revise my backdrop and find a different perspective for my story but I’m stuck and struggling to figure it out.
Me – All the way in the back there – observing and supporting the Last Supper Table
As a studio assistant for Ali Sandifer and support staff on this project, I’ve been both in the trenches and on the sidelines. I have witnessed how this project – at once a personal challenge taken on by two people – has become something so much larger – a testament to the power of relationships, reciprocity and mutual respect.
Building and maintaining good relationships can be overwhelming, much like the thought of building a 30 foot long table. I’ve thought about that a lot lately, as I have observed and participated in the growing set of connections and collaborations being forged around the Last Supper Table. What’s happening around the making of this table shows that it’s possible to achieve things much bigger than one or two people when there’s a shared commitment and when differences or grumbles are set aside. Sometimes you just have to be humbled by the notion that it’s kind of impossible to go it alone. At the end of the day, even when we’re alone, we’re in this together. Sitting at the same table. A win for one is a win for all.
For me, The Last Supper Table is a reminder that I’m not the only one who’s ever lost time or money or sleep, that we all make sacrifices and get frustrated… and that’s ok. It’s also a reminder that when you operate in earnest and hold others to the same account that good and beautiful things start to happen. Ultimately, it’s helped me to lighten my load – because I’m too young to carry so much weight on my shoulders.
Selecting walnut boards at Armstrong Millworks in Highland, Michigan.
The Last Supper Table is being crafted out of hardwood. Years ago, we wanted to understand our medium in greater depth so we searched for its origins. Armed with the simple awareness that hardwood starts at the tree, we searched for the forest. We arrived at Pike Lumber Company in Indiana. We walked the entire process from forest to sawmill to kiln to warehouse in awe. Years later, we reached back out to Pike Lumber Company to help us with the Last Supper Table. They, again, held our hands – this time navigating a course that led us full circle to our local lumber provider, Armstrong Millworks, while connecting us to someone rather special in between: the Last Supper Table’s first apostle.
A person we had never met in a city we had never visited became Apostle No. 1, generously donating enough lumber, through Armstrong, for 30′ of table top. His identity will be revealed at the Last Supper and we look forward to announcing the sponsorship before ArtPrize begins. Apostle No. 1, you have our absolute gratitude and we look forward to meeting you. In the meantime, know that your support translated to thirteen 12′ boards of the most beautiful 4/4 walnut.
Visiting the Last Supper Table exhibit space at the UICA and brainstorming.
The Urban Institute for Contemporary Art (UICA) will house the Last Supper Table during ArtPrize 2014 in Grand Rapids from September 24 – October 12. We are honored to be a part of the collective of artists selected to exhibit. The UICA’s theme this year is COLLABORATION with “originality, inspiration, and chemistry encouraged.”
This weekend we had the opportunity to visit our exhibit space at the UICA and it had us thinking about both the art and the execution of the project. We are experimenting in the shop and working through our thoughts on the overall scale of the table as well as its details. It is this part of the process where we understand and value the act of collaboration. It is also this part of the process that tends to be silent to you, the public. What you are allowed to see is a finished piece, not one under production. The Last Supper Table is an exception and, in the next few weeks, you will see our process come to life.
You may also begin to understand the way that we collaborate. The Prologue video to the Last Supper Table already tested us as co-designers. If you pay close attention, you will notice two seats with only one of us present at a time – not both. We walked into the video shoot with the intention of speaking about the Last Supper together but we were prompted to do so apart – and this was not easy. As you follow the making of the Last Supper Table you will get to know us, the makers, a little more. For instance, the post before this was one that took Andre 33 years to write. It is this kind of release that drives this project for the both of us.
I was born on July 2, 1972. Today, I am 42. Since the age of 9, I have feared this birthday for one reason only: my Dad, Harvey Gene Sandifer, passed away at that age. He loved to fish and on April 02, 1981 he left for a last-minute fishing trip. I begged to go with him, but I had school the next day. That was the last time I waved good-bye. Ever since, I have battled with forgiveness and trust because I do not know what happened. Making is my therapy. I have to trust that God had a plan that, at 9, I could not understand. I dedicate my mark on the Last Supper Table to him.
The Last Supper would not have been possible without the First Supper. Nearly one year ago, Andre and I shared a meal with friends at our home in Detroit. After a disastrous experiment with dinner, we settled into a conversation that was quite the opposite. It was, in fact, one of those rare moments when you realize the power of an accidental idea and the many forms it can take. Andre and Brian were from Grand Rapids; Lisa and I were not. Somewhere in the hilarity of ‘Grand Rapids talk’ – religion, race, biking, teenage anti-drug enforcement, high school rivalries (Ottawa Hills vs. East Grand Rapids), and football – was ArtPrize. It was in that mess of laughter that the Last Supper Table was conceived.
In the months that followed, the idea of designing and crafting a Last Supper Table grew. Although born out of a light-hearted conversation, it spoke to us personally and we began to fall in love. Through private commissions at Ali Sandifer Studio, we had birthed a series of tables over the years and they kept growing in size to convene more and more people. With each one that followed the First Supper, we would revisit the idea of a table inspired by the Last Supper. When ArtPrize 2014 was announced, we had already decided to make this special project happen. After ten years of designing furniture for our own studio, we were ready to take what we had learned and step aside for a moment to enter a new territory of public art.
The collection of thoughts on this blog will not capture all of our dreaming to date – and there has been a considerable amount of dreaming – but it will allow you to follow us as we turn this dream into a reality. This public platform is your invitation to join us for dinner.