King's Chapel Ark
Recreating the King’s Chapel Ark
For the Required Reading exhibit, the Boston Athenaeum worked closely with the Chipstone Foundation and Current Projects, a Milwaukee, WI based design firm led by artist and designer, Brent Budsberg, to meticulously recreate the elaborate 19th century cabinet which was built to protect and display the King’s Chapel Library and has resided on the Athenaeum’s 4th floor since the cabinet’s construction in 1883. The original cabinet was assembled on site in its permanent location and is too large fit through doors or elevators. So when the Athenaeum decided to do a public exhibit reevaluating the contents of the library in its first floor gallery, the cabinet was meticulously measured and reproduced piece by piece over a 9-month period in the Current Projects studio in Milwuakee and finally transported to Boston. The endeavor was not merely a means of creating a luxurious display fixture for the exhibit, but represented a deep dive into understanding the construction methods and design sensibilities of a 19th century Boston cabinetmaker.
The accompanying video offers a visual survey of many of the techniques used to recreate the cabinet. While many of the processes involved the use of modern equipment such as routers, it was soon discovered that the best means of achieving the delicate and nuanced geometries of the original was to employ many of the same techniques that would have been used to create the original, such as hand carving, shop-made scratch stock molding, and use of antique specialty tools such as the compass plane. While we may imagine that the original was constructed using only hand tools, most of the equipment in the CP shop had 19th century analogs, including planers, jointers, bandsaws and shapers. These machines were likely steam powered with all of the tools running off of a central shaft. The most conspicuous methodological difference is perhaps the use of digital 3d modeling.
Budsberg spent several days taking detailed measurements of the original cabinet and created the digital model on site before returning to Milwaukee. The digital model provided an unambiguous means of communicating the geometry of the original to all of the craftspeople who worked on the project. In a nod to our changing methods of fabrication and information access, the same digital model was used to create a scaled down 3d print of the cabinet which concludes the exhibit.