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On completing The Dome of Human Kindness

Completed dome at Penmount

Below is some text from the conclusion of the booklet Tom was writing about Rebuilding the Dome of Human Kindness. Once the process of the reconstruction was complete Tom handed over the finished structure to Cornwall Faith Forum. You can read the full text and see the illustrations at https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/rebuilding-the-dome-of-human-kindness/ . In accordance withTom’s wishes we hope to expand and develop this little publication in particular to include more photos about the interior colour scheme. The aim will be to use it as a fundraiser for the Dor Kemmyn Oval, the visionary multi-faith building that the Faith Forum is planning to build on the field that it leases from Cornwall County Council at Penmount.

One of the most remarkable features of carrying out the dome project was for Tom the way that it has brought the enthusiasm and combined skills of so many people together at each stage. There is in Nichiren Buddhism a concept of unity know as ‘Many in body, one in mind’ was amply demonstrated by this experience.

With its roots in a Christian upbringing, the concept of the dome has nevertheless taken on an aspect of Buddhist humanism now with the way its more public-facing display, shown externally, intrigues the eye, even from a distance. Its filigree of interlocking patterns seems to emphasise this, the Buddhist idea of dependent origination shown graphically with everything in life being interrelated. In carrying out the interior scheme, on the other hand, there was for Tom sheer enjoyment in the varied and juxtaposed colour areas that were created by his team of highly capable assistants. One human kindness leads to another. He saw hope for a transformation of society for the better.

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Researching costs for a reconstruction

This post refers to plans to re-construct Tom’s ‘ Dome Of Human Kindness’ dome that dated from 1972. Click HERE to see a visualisation of the structure.

On 27th March 2018 Tom collected the first re-stretched triangular canvas of the 18 that would make up the reconstructed dome. This can be seen in the background of one of these shots. This is part of a ‘pilot’ study for the whole project so that Tom could work out all the costs prior to the start of a ‘crowdfunding’ scheme once . This was  a historic moment for Tom.

The approx 1/5th MDF scale model on the table in the foreground  enabled Tom to work out the angles of the bevelled edges of each panel.

Darren of T.P. Timber explained the need for the model to calculate all the angles for the bevels.  Here he is in the shot to show the scale of the approx 1/5th scale model.

 Here’s a shot of the interior of the model.

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The story of the Dome of Human Kindness

 

of_human_kindness_3D_reconstruction_for_blog-smallIn 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.

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Architectural painting

An architectural context for paintings is something that could be deeply inspiring for Tom ever since that time in Italy in the early 1970s surrounded as he was by the fresco-painted murals of Tuscany. A musician friend across the Piazza was renting an apartment converted from an old farm building and the canvas shape of Tuscan farmhouse 1973 ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/tuscan-farmhouse-1973/ ) was a temporary hanging Tom designed to fill a wall space in his apartment that had once been a barn doorway. To Tom it seemed a far cry from the damp Cornish winter around him as he wrote,  though it’s undeniable that fitting images of three dimensional forms into sometimes unusual two dimensional shapes continued to intrigue him here.

Image of my Tuscan Farmhouse wall hanging

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Benefits of doing life laundry

One aspect of the studio move that Tom and Gabrielle were intending to make was that a good deal of sorting out and clearance was needed beforehand. That involves opening up hidden piles of old work then photographing and packing some of it that would be rehomed when the move was accomplished. For Tom this led to the unusual step of creating a whole new picture index page on his website. This Early Work page ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product-category/early-paintings-and-drawings/ ) already featured eleven pieces and several more would be joining them over the coming months.

of_human_kindness_3D_reconstruction_for_blog-smallOne particular rediscovery that Tom was excited about was an ambitious piece from 1972 that he now called Of Human Kindness ( https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/reconstruction-1972-mural-project-human-kindness/ ). Its digital reconstruction inspired Tom  to want to re-stretch and re-assemble the eighteen triangular canvases that make it up as a free standing mural (the original canvas stretcher bars no longer existed) but that was a project for some future date when a suitable site could be found. Meanwhile a print of images of this piece is available through the above link.