Habitat for Humanity of Metro Denver hosted an event yesterday with a relatively simple theme. Thirty-five artists had been given one of a variety of old doors, ranging from the large to the small, to transform into pieces of art that were auctioned off to raise money for Habitat.
Some took the theme of “Opening Doors” metaphorically, creating images of doors opening onto other places or times, or painting Buddhist-inspired symbols to bring good fortune upon those who walk through. Others found themes of their own in layers of ink, oil, or acrylic.
One artist repurposed his door entirely, cutting and crafting the faded wood into two chairs hinged together, able to swivel from being back-to-back to side-by-side. Most of the pieces, though, utilized some paints on a single side of the door.
One artist used both.
On the front side of an old pantry door, she painted a succession of sunflowers growing up the center of the panel. On the other side, nestled in between thick shelves that once held soup cans, boxed goods, and – I hope! – bags of coffee, grew another sunflower. Around the shelves ran inspirational quotes. Towards the top of the door, a handprint. Below that, a cartoon cloud.
The artist had begun taking up oil painting sometime through her own exploits in architecture school, and has explored those skills ever since for her own purposes. Her door for this fundraiser, however, seemed meant to transcend self-expression.
The artist behind the swivel chair explained an intent to create seating that might bring people together. The artist behind the sunflower pantry door went that same step in another direction. To create the door, she brought people together.
Living in a somewhat disenfranchised neighborhood, she offers her time and her house to some of the local children who lack positive adult contact. One group of three young sisters found themselves to be co-painters, invited over for snacks and snippets of conversation as they worked. Despite the negativity of their home life, the oldest girl encircled the shelves in a variety of positive quotes. Her sister painted not an angry storm-cloud, but one smiling.
The artist’s intent was less the door as a final product and more the gift of a positive, safe place for these girls. A place free from anger and hostility, but also a place free from responsibility – the eldest, for a time, didn’t have to act the role of mother for her younger sisters.
In the artist’s words, possibly stemming from her experience in political science and philosophy, architecture should have the imperative of providing safe and positive places for people.
Theorists have made varieties of similar statements over the past centuries, and such sentiments initially drew me into the field. Common practice seems to reject them; “We can’t change the world through architecture.”
I regret to generally agree, now.
But those sentiments resurface in different people, at different times. Enough to make me wonder if our view of architecture might evolve into something more idealistic, more driven to affect meaningful change in our world. Or perhaps those thoughts will always be in the margin.