Wednesday, July 16, 2014

An ancient relic

This past weekend, my brother and sister held a tag sale at our late parents' house, clearing out a lot of the stuff our parents had accumulated over the years. There were a few things that we decided to keep as mementos, and one of them that I had picked out some weeks ago almost got sold. But I timed my visit to the tag sale just right, and the person who'd been about to buy it graciously took it out of his pile of stuff, and now it resides in my house.

The item is this:

I created it when I was in college at UMass in Amherst, Massachusetts, roughly forty years ago. In fact, I think I made it using some of the facilities at school, specifically the old wood shop. It was not, however, a school project. I'm not exactly sure where the idea of making a toilet paper holder in the form of a Greek temple came from, but as I said to Jeannine as we were looking at it recently, it may have been -- at least in part -- a sort of sarcastic comment about high art. 

I really don't remember. But I do recall that making it was both fun and frustrating. The trickiest thing to make was the set of columns. I cut circular pieces out of 3/4 inch pine boards, probably on a jigsaw, and glued them together to make the basic column shapes. Then I employed some wood carving tools to laboriously carve by hand the fluting into each column. It was laborious mostly because I was carving against the grain, while trying to maintain the little flutes between each channel. I was not completely successful, and some of the columns have irregular, nicked flutes. But the result was satisfactory to me. I think it pleased me that these little wooden columns were made in sections, as the original marble ones were, and that I didn't just buy wooden dowels of the appropriate size and carve those, which probably would have been a lot easier.

I also spent a significant amount of time carving the relief in the pediment of this temple. I'm not sure what, if any, particular significance the imagery had. It's suffered a bit over the years, getting chipped in a few spots.

The roof of the temple was also built from seven separate pieces of pine wood, cut roughly into nearly-triangular pieces of similar size, then glued together and sanded down. This roof piece was attached with small brass hinges to two vertical pieces of 3/4 inch pine, which I used instead of more fluted columns because it was easier to attach that way, and probably sturdier as well. 

      A short piece of light-gauge chain was employed to keep the roof of the temple from flopping all the way back when opened.

To hold the roll of toilet paper within the temple, I built a small cradle out of plywood and pine, with holes in it spaced to accommodate a standard size toilet paper roller of the spring-loaded plastic sort.

The base was constructed of plywood, with the top piece being solid and the lower two pieces being frames just large enough to make the temple stairs with sufficient overlap to allow the three levels to be glued together. The columns were attached to the base using screws.

When completed, I brushed on a brown stain to unify (well, as much as I could) the disparate visual elements and types of wood, as well as to protect the piece from water damage, as might be expected for something intended to be used in a bathroom.

However, I don't think it ever saw use in that way. Looking at it now, I see that it is really a bit too cumbersome for its intended use -- you'd really need to have a table next to your toilet to make it practical, and that is not a terribly common feature in most bathrooms. So it ended up as a curiosity on a shelf in my parents' home after I gave it to them for Christmas one year. I wish I could remember at this point what their reaction to such an odd gift was, but I can't. I suspect there may have been more than one eyebrow raised. -- PL

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