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LRK Pisces sculptureAn engineer by training and trade, my father had a firm grasp on reality. He was practical and believed that problems had solutions. He had a fierce work ethic and great determination. At the same time, he was willing to entertain — on an intellectual level — all manner of thought. He was a voracious and eclectic reader and enjoyed pondering the mysteries of the universe.

Among the mysteries that intrigued him were symbols of all sorts. He studied them, sketched them and, eventually, carved them. He had little use for astrology, but its symbols were among those that interested him and when he was about 60 he began sculpting his way through the zodiac.

On my 22nd birthday, he gave me this Pisces sculpture. Balanced on a steel strap above a marble base, the piece stands about 21 inches high. The pair of sanded-to-a-gloss fishes — lemon and orange wood, according to his notes — leap from a teak sea.

Though years, and my father, have passed, and the wood has darkened slightly, the sculpture remains to remind me of his engineer’s precision, his wide-ranging mind…and his love.

deux femmes

1966 - DAK w Tête de femmeIt’s 1966. In Antibes, at the Grimaldi, my mother examines Picasso’s Tête de femme aux grands yeux. My father’s black-and-white photograph emphasizes the rough texture and stark volumes of the sculpture. His own woodcarving was much influenced by the abstracted forms of Picasso, Brancusi, Arp, Noguchi and Henry Moore, which he studied with an engineer’s eye — not to replicate but to understand.

In the photograph, through some trick of light, angle or scale, the perspective is slightly off. Dorothy and the Tête seem to vie for the same plane, advancing and retreating, one in front, then the other. Whether my father saw that, at the time or later, I don’t know. Nor can I guess whether he framed the image with tongue in cheek, these two commanding women caught side-by-side in the stillness of their unique beauty.


LRK to jik 1997In his sculpture, my father returned repeatedly to this form — the object both joined and separate. Reflecting the natural shape of the branching tree, it suggests relationship as well as the individual standing with arms raised in praise or plea.

This small “WINGED FORM,” as he described it in his carefully annotated and illustrated log, was made from two pieces of black walnut “doweled and epoxied together” and affixed to a black walnut base. My father made it for my birthday in 1997. It was one of his last sculptures and it was the last of my birthdays we would celebrate together.

In addition to the “Love — Papa” signature on the bottom, the piece itself is carefully scribed on the four faces of the lower, joined, section: my initials, J and K, on two sides, 97 and his artist’s monogram, a conjoined LRK, on the other two.

It is conceived and crafted and finished with love, infused with memories and embodied with the calm strength of his warm hands. A gift that transcends time and loss.
. . . . .
LRK to jik, 1997, “WINGED FORM,” 10” high, base 3.25” diameter

how to rally…


LRK to DAK ~ 27th anniversaryMy parents got married on December 20th. Twenty-seven years later, my mother found this small wood object set at her place at the breakfast table, where my father had left it without card or comment. Something she had made — a card, a small painting — would be at his place, and I would have left, or mailed, something for them as well. Hand-made objects, left quietly for discovery, at once expected and surprising, marked all of our family occasions.

This one fits perfectly in your hand, one side rounded, sanded to silken smoothness, the other carved with this anniversary message. The wood is satiny maple, the piece meant to be held, warmed in the hand, set down, picked up.

Sometimes my father came upstairs from his workshop and, extending his arm, palm down, waited for my mother or me to reach out and take something from him. He made many small pieces for the hand and that gesture, the arm extended palm down, was familiar to most of the people he knew. It said “This is for you” as clearly as if he had spoken, and it seemed he could always reach into his pocket and pull out a tumbled slice of agate, a carved and polished wedge of wood — enduring pieces of memory we read and re-read with our hands.

Happy December 20th.

my father’s workshop…5

small sculpture ~ LRK93A woodcarving was not finished until its surface was silken and flawlessly smooth, achieved with hours of sanding, first with rasps and files, then with ever-finer grades of sandpaper. As a sculpture approached completion, my father would brush off the dust and test the finish again and again with his hand and then with a soft, white cloth, his senses attuned to the faintest suggestion of a snag. When he was satisfied, he would inscribe the piece with his blended initials — LRK — and the year, and, ever the engineer, record its completion in his sketchbook.

My father loved the glossy perfection of the wood and he encouraged touching. He relished the expressions of amazement and delight as someone’s hand discovered the smoothed contours, round and inviting as flesh. Once awakened to this wonder, the visitor’s hand might stray toward one of my mother’s paintings or constructions, but Dorothy hovered nearby and was quick to bark, “Don’t touch!”

It was a nice snapshot of who they were: my father generous, embracing and warm, my mother ever fearful of the wounding touch.

my father’s workshop…4

LRK's sculpture shelves

My father refused to sell his sculpture. “I already have a career,” he would say, shaking his head. But he gifted his carvings to relatives and friends in celebration of births and birthdays, graduations and housewarmings, anniversaries and affection. He had a sort of sculpture library, complete with a check-out list, putting pieces on long-term loan, trading them for different pieces and, often, after a time, turning the loan into a gift.

From the first chunk of wood whittled with a pocket knife when he was in the Army, carving became my father’s after-work, weekend, retirement hobby and he was enormously productive. Even with all of his gifting, and the revolving exhibit inside the house, the shelves in the basement were crowded with sculpture.

my father’s workshop…3

LRK chain sculpture 1969 ~ 1 and 2

Most evenings after dinner, and for a large part of each weekend, my father could be found in his workshop in the garage, carving. Stacked in the basement and on a long, deep shelf in the garage were pieces of trees – orange, lemon, grapefruit, walnut, olive. Bark removed, sorted by size and identified by species and date, the logs lay untouched for seven or more years, drying slowly as he monitored them for pests and checking.

Eventually, his workbench cleared of another project, he would pull a piece of wood from the stack and consider it for long hours, turning it this way and that, standing it on end, sometimes sketching a form on paper, or on the wood itself. Looking for the sculpture within the wood, he slowly began to release it.

He took great pleasure in the labor, in the tree’s lingering personality, in the slow reveal of contour and grain…

LRK chain sculpture 1969 ~ 3 and 4

LRK sculpture #132 ~ orange wood ~ 1969 ~ collection of Jon & Chet Lappen

trying to write…

practicing the MöbiusMy father believed in the value of practice — that a thing could be understood, mastered, seen, with sufficient study and repetition. In his workshop he made sketches in pencil and crayon, and sometimes puzzled out a complex form in pieces of scrap lumber before setting chisel to wood.

The Möbius band, with its exquisite simplicity, appealed to his aesthetic sensibilities and his engineer’s precision. It was a form he contemplated and returned to for years, practicing its infinite curve in paper, rubber, metal, plastic and wood.

The sculpture eventually emerged from the sketches: a small stack of Finnish birch plywood, given to him by a friend, was glued and clamped into a solid block, then carved and filed and sanded and sanded and sanded to a glossy twist of magic. In his sketchbook, the finished piece is recorded in his neat engineer’s handwriting with a date (1986) and number (451) and a pencil sketch with an erasure that shows he was still mastering the geometry of the thing.

As I write, my tapping fingers twist another scrap of fabric into a Möbius of words, practicing, trying to understand, looking for the form, the beauty, the truth hidden within memory and mind.

LRK - Möbius 1986
In the top image, the sculpture in progress is shown third down in the middle row. The finished piece is 8.5″ x 12″.