In 1972 a recently qualified art student was living near Florence. He was in Italy to immerse himself in the great art to be found there and to develop his own work as best he could. Many of the paintings he most admired there were in monasteries and churches, often painted on their walls back in the 14th and 15th centuries by people like Giotto, Massacio and Piero Della Francesca. This reminded him of all the bible stories he had grown up with, for his parent’s had been Christian missionaries. He found that he needed to express the spirituality that discovering these paintings was bringing out in his mind.
Working with charcoal and big sheets of paper on the floor of his flat he drew out what were to become the compositions of the dome. Much of his last three years at art college had been spent drawing people and now he found that every mark he made suggested a figure. As he worked he realised that what he was reading at the time, a general introduction to Buddhist ideas such as the way that all things are inter-related, had found its way into the themes he had chosen – an interweaving of elements from the tales of St Martin and the beggar, the good Samaritan and the prodigal son. This was maybe part of a quest that was to lead him to embrace Nichiren Buddhism more than ten years later.
As a bit of a young hippy back in 1972 (his hair fell down to his shoulders at the time) he had absorbed much of the alternative technology of the 70’s. This gave him the idea to make his own small building and paint its walls with his stories of inter-related lives just as the church and monastery walls had been directly painted on. Someone he knew nearby had an overgrown tennis court behind their house and gave him permission to put up his dome inside it. The structure was big enough to crawl inside where he drew and painted away on the walls every day for many weeks. Later, when it was finished, he took it apart, rolled up its canvas panels and took it back to England where he re-assembled it in the art college he had attended and that had given him some money to go to Italy a year earlier.
The tutors and students at the college were interested but also puzzled because this was so different from the art that most people were making at the time. Later he became involved in other things, trained as a teacher, moved to Cornwall to teach, took up Nichiren Buddhism, brought up his young son and step-daughter and became involved in his local community by running a little gallery together with his wife. After twenty-four years in teaching he decided to move on and devote more time to painting. He had also made many friends by that time. Some were Buddhist practitioners like himself. Some were people of different faiths or none. Many were artists of various kinds of which there are a great many living in Cornwall.
The gallery that had been the pride and joy of himself and his wife had been in the town of St Just near Lands End but, after thirty years of living there, they felt ready to move to somewhere more central in Cornwall and to have just a private studio to paint in instead. It was then that he re-discovered the rolled up canvas panels that had been stored in their loft for all that time. He unrolled and photographed each one before rolling them all up again to store in the loft of their new home in St Columb. He found that he could create a mock-up of the original designs for the dome using the photographs. This time, however, he decided that, if ever he re-assembled the actual dome, it would be inside-out – with the pictures visible from the outside because he knew that many of his friends, who like him were quite old by now, would find it very difficult to crawl inside to see them.
In the meantime he decided to make scaled down-model kits of his dome, to have them printed and to sell them to raise funds for the building of Cornwall’s multi-faith centre, Dor Kemmyn, a name meaning Common Ground in Cornish. He called it his Dome of Human Kindness for that is one of the values that, in speaking with people of different faiths, he found was common to them all.