The Growth of a Gate

I know, I know – I’ve been pretty mum about the project. It’s not for lack of work, or lack of passion, or anything of the sort. Quite the opposite. It’s a tasty treat of irony that the very thing that I spend my days working on, my nights thinking about, and my heart fully invested in, is what saps me of the energy to communicate my progress on this blog. In the past week, it’s gotten too damn hot during the day as we were on our eating balcony and rammed earth fence, so we’ve begun a 6:30 am starting time. While the workers rest in the shade from 12-2, I eat a quick lunch and run errands in town, work on the pergola at the hostel, or respond to emails. The days have been ending consistently at 6:30 pm, a full 12 hours later. I’ve never worked more in my life, but I couldn’t possibly enjoy it more.

I mentioned in a recent post (i.e., probably over a month ago) that I had four small(ish) projects I’d be working on. Here’s a recap of the first. Put a big fat checkmark next to my gate idea. Read on.

 

———-

 

I’m not exactly sure what prompted the original idea, but I’ve been quite certain we’d have to put a tree on the gate leading to the temple side of our property, long before the planning of the gate started.
The source of the inspiration is a massive Peepal tree just outside our walls, its huge branches extending out and over the oldest temple in the valley – a small, unremarkable looking structure. It was under a Peepal tree (though most people call them Bodhi) that the Buddha attained enlightenment, so they’re generally regarded as something close to “sacred” here. Every temple I’ve been to has both a Peepal tree and its female counterpart, the “Bar” tree. Two together, always. The one by our land is huge – it must be hundreds of years old – but it’s not remotely as big as some of the others Surkhet – inconceivably massive, twisting things that would deserve a George RR Martin description of a weirwood. Surprisingly, though, the trees don’t continue to grow higher – they hit a height of 50 feet or so and then just expand their roots. Maybe that’s how they survive so long – hit your height and just grow your supporting foundation without trying to do anything too fancy.

Maggie's Tree of Life

Maggie’s Tree of Life

At first, I thought maybe a gate that had both the Temple and the Tree on it (it makes such a peaceful scene) would be appropriate, but I realize this could be impossibly difficult. One day, way back in February, I took a photo of the Peepal tree and in Photoshop I traced around the contours and shapes of its trunk and branches, and started playing around with putting it on a gate:

The first design

The first design

It obviously needed some work, but the tree seemed simple enough to replicate from metal. I liked that the lines were exactly taken from a photo of the tree, but it was a little weird that the metal on the trunk would be thinner than in the branches.
I had a couple of meetings with Brendan, who is the husband of our Women’s Center Fellow and an insanely skilled artist who draws on (among other things) a Wacom tablet to make Photoshop paintings. We talked about shape and trying to create a more traditional Nepali pattern. Bottom line – we couldn’t really find much in terms of “traditional Nepali patterns” so he redid the tree drawing with his Wacom and drew out the rest of the gate. There would be a door on the inside, and the outside would have vines climbing throughout in order to resemble a living tree. The buds he put in the side of the gate are BlinkNow’s symbol.

Brendan's much-improved iteration.

Brendan’s much-improved iteration.

It still looked weird, and the bud symbols were a little off. I changed the inside of the tree to reflect something close to actual metal work. At the off-hand suggestion of Nate (see previous post), I added letters to the top to say Kopila Valley.

My finalized design.

My finalized design.

The first gate place we went to gave us an initial estimate of 32,000, and then called us two days later to change the cost to 80,000. Quite a substantial increase. The second place we went refused us because they didn’t have time. The third place told us they’ve built beautiful gates all over the valley, so Sandip and I took them in the car so they could direct us to these “beautiful gates.” They were unable to find a single one. The people at the fourth place were energetic, friendly, and they immediately started come up with ideas for which materials to use where. Their estimate was 35,000, and I told them we’d pay them 42. We went with them. I’ve already written a fair amount, so I’ll just show the progression of the gate (with plenty of captions).

 

The triple-concentric arches for the top. The top of the outside arch is at 8' above ground, meaning the top of the door is a little under 7'.

The triple-concentric arches for the top. The top of the outside arch is at 8′ above ground, meaning the top of the door is a little under 7′.

The Kopila buds and easy part were finished early.

The Kopila buds and easy part were finished early.

Then began the hard stuff - the curves of the tree. We decided to use 10 mm iron rod for the trunk of the tree, transitioning to 8 mm rod on the inner branches, and 6.5 mm rod on the outside of the arch.

Then began the hard stuff – the curves of the tree. We decided to use 10 mm iron rod for the trunk of the tree, transitioning to 8 mm rod on the inner branches, and 6.5 mm rod on the outside of the arch.

The trunk, welded and finished. The seven rods bend in and out of each other in a 3D strangulation.

The trunk, welded and finished. The seven rods bend in and out of each other in a 3D strangulation.

One mistake I made - I've gotten so used to people completely disregarding directions that I told the people it had to be EXACTLY like my drawing. They started to make the inner branches just like my drawings, and I had to stop them multiple times because they were following it too closely and it didn't convert well from paper to iron.

One mistake I made – I’ve gotten so used to people completely disregarding directions that I told the people it had to be EXACTLY like my drawing. They started to make the inner branches just like my drawings, and I had to stop them multiple times because they were following it too closely and it didn’t convert well from paper to iron.

Hours of work removed at my insistence.

Hours of work removed at my insistence.

Every one of the 7 rods on the trunk divides into two 8 mm rods, each of which goes all the way to the outside of the arch. The continuity of branches was essential to making it resemble a tree. By this point, we were no longer trying to make it look like the Peepal tree at the land.

Every one of the 7 rods on the trunk divides into two 8 mm rods, each of which goes all the way to the outside of the arch. The continuity of branches was essential to making it resemble a tree. By this point, we were no longer trying to make it look like the Peepal tree at the land.

Angling the cuts where rods were welded was absolutely critical to making a smooth, realistic-looking fork in a branch.

Angling the cuts where rods were welded was absolutely critical to making a smooth, realistic-looking fork in a branch.

A random moment on a random branch (this gives a decent sense of the process):

 

Growth. The people who run the metal shop seem to adore me, and eventually began to bring me and Sandip delicious, light Nepali meals while we directed the work.

Growth. The people who run the metal shop seem to adore me, and eventually began to bring me and Sandip delicious, light Nepali meals while we directed the work.

Inside - finished.

Inside – finished.

The outside work begins. We made sure that every branch running into the inside arch continued at an appropriate angle and location to look continuous with the inside.

The outside work begins. We made sure that every branch running into the inside arch continued at an appropriate angle and location to look continuous with the inside.

Writing "Kopila Valley" to be hidden in the outer branches. Luckily, both Kopila and Valley have 6 letters, so we just centered the "A" of Kopila and "V" of valley right at the peak of the outside arch.

Writing “Kopila Valley” to be hidden in the outer branches. Luckily, both Kopila and Valley have 6 letters, so we just centered the “A” of Kopila and “V” of valley right at the peak of the outside arch.

The letters are finished and acceptably difficult to read/subtle. Deciding which of the branches would bend to form the letters was very hard.

The letters are finished and acceptably difficult to read/subtle. Deciding which of the branches would bend to form the letters was very hard.

Filling in the blanks.

Filling in the blanks.

And the right side.

And the right side.

Gate finished, time for paint! Putting on the red primer.

Gate finished, time for paint! Putting on the red primer.

Sprayed and painting finished.

Sprayed and painting finished.

 

Side by side with the original design.

Side by side with the original design.

Our welder, Shalman, standing next to the gate at the land. The temple is behind.

Our welder, Shalman, standing next to the gate at the land. The temple is behind. We’re going to finish the brick with an arch above the gate.

A small crowd gathers (of course).

A small crowd gathers (of course).

We worked well into the night getting the gate mounted.

We worked well into the night getting the gate mounted.

I lucked out – it is a very foreign idea in Nepal that one might end up redoing work that has already been “finished.” Many, many times I had the welder go back and redo hours of work, and in the end the final product is probably indicative of only 60% of actual time spent. Other places would have told me “no, we’re not redoing this” or thrown a fit.

While I by no means came up with the concept behind the latch, I will claim a little credit for designing each individual part and making it in such a way that the door is still able to open out. I don’t think the welder truly understood what we were making until the first time it closed, and he saw the latch slide up the angled piece. His eyes lit up with surprise.
Watching the Nepalis try to open the gate is hilarious, albeit a little frustrating for me. In general, kids and locals will walk to the gate and lift up the latch, pull and push the door, but they’re seemingly incapable of doing both and the same time.

IMG_1941

Sliding latch and hole for the lock.

Sliding latch and hole for the lock.

IMG_1939 IMG_1940 IMG_1936

 

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7 comments on “The Growth of a Gate

  1. Steven Thomas says:

    Luke, this is wondrous!

  2. Anthony Thacher says:

    Luke: You have demonstrated you have the heart of an artist. Your grandmother would be VERY proud. Tim Thacher

  3. jane says:

    luke, the gatemaker, you worked love, genius and magic into that gate. it’s incredible! i enjoyed every detail you described in its evolution. i hope Shalman has discovered that he, too, is an artist.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Very impressive Nate. you do indeed have the heart of an artist. And i agree doing all those change orders would have made most folks complain loudly at the very least. Bravo for staying true to your beautiful design.
    i love your story telling skills also. From a craftsman’s perspective your stories bring the projects alive. Can’t wait to see what’s next young man.

  5. Josh says:

    Hey kiddo–so fun to participate vicariously as you discover the joys (and frustrations!) of being a maker. The results of your obsessive attention are outstanding! I hope the metal workers got the same thrill as you obviously did.

    -d-

  6. Camil says:

    I owuld love to see this in person, open it and walk through. The design works so well in metal rod! it has a flowing delicacy at the same time that it is expansive and implies the massive breadth going beyond the confines of the gate structure. You have my full respect and delight as an artist on this! The small tips of branches (almost leaves) are essential to being a tree form. The flowing form reminds me of the tree form that Molly did on tile in our house. Both are full of life.

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