And There Was Light

 

Genesis 1:3. Ivy courtesy of the Maltext Building, Pine Street, Burlington.
Genesis 1:3. Ivy courtesy of the Maltext Building, Pine Street, Burlington.

Not long ago, I wanted to present a carving to a filmmaker–something suitable in text and, according to her preference, carved in ebony. I chose the Biblical phrase “and there was light”–the point being that a filmmaker depends on light, and is in a sense a creator of, or in, light. In her particular case, filmmaking was also about shedding light in the sense of telling truth.

My friend and general expert Charles Häberl of Rutgers sent me the quote from the Aramaic Bible in Syriac, and the carving turned out well enough, though to my surprise I hated working in ebony, which was like carving coal. I decided that at the first opportunity I’d make another carving of the Biblical phrase, but the wood had to be right: I wanted something that implied the primeval chaos that existed before light, or before the word.

For the umpteenth time, Dave Wilson of Sterling Hardwoods came through. He handed me an offcut from the end of a board of sapele–an amazing piece with grain like a weather map. I did the carving, but it’s always impossible to tell exactly what wood will look like after finishing, and to my astonishment the polyurethane revealed vein after vein of gold in the wood. And, in every respect, there was light.

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