Join me to rebuild a dome,
The Dome of Human Kindness
What is the Dome of Human Kindness?
In 1972 while working as an artist in Italy, thanks to funding arranged by Newcastle University, I made what was to become the Dome of Human Kindness. Inspired by the fresco-painted murals of Giotto, Massacio and Piero Della Francesca I constructed a domed structure from 18 large triangular stretched canvases and created my own cycle of mural paintings inside it. A friend had kindly lent me their disused tennis court as a 'studio' and it was there that this project first came into being in the heat of an Italian summer. Such was the audacity of a 23-year-old recently graduated art student!
How did a young artist's idea from the early 1970s grow into an inter-faith project in 2018?
Initially, this ambitious mural helped me explore how everything in life is inter-related and, in connection with this, I started for the first time reading in depth about Buddhist philosophy. This was something I was later to pursue through my practice of Nichiren Buddhism in Cornwall which began some ten years later. All those years ago in Italy, however, I used interwoven elements from the tales of St Martin and the beggar, the good Samaritan and the prodigal son to devise the wrap-around scheme for my mural. A theme of human kindness began to appear as a core value that I wanted to express, something that I'm sure had lodged itself in my mind as a result of Christian elements in my upbringing. There was, therefore, an interfaith aspect to the project from the very beginning.
Later in that same year of 1972, the dome was briefly shown at Newcastle University where I had studied previously and in 1975 it was shown at Bristol Arts Centre. The canvas panels were then rolled up for many years and stored in the attics of houses I've lived in until my most recent move in 2013. At that time I found that the light-weight wooden stretchers had become unusable and had to be discarded but that the canvases were all still in good condition. I photographed them all and was able to make up a model kit of the dome in this way. I decided that, if ever the dome was rebuilt, I would put the original mural images, as in the model, on the outside of the structure, making a more public statement in this way. By that time I was a member of Cornwall Faith Forum and have sold prints of the model kit as a fund-raiser for the Dor Kemmyn Oval, a visionary multi-faith building that the Faith Forum aims to create near Truro.
At the Forum's 2017 AGM the decision was taken to work towards developing the whole site where the eventual Dor Kemmyn Oval is to be built and to create more activities there. I realised then that I could contribute to these broader aims by rebuilding the dome and offering to donate it to the Faith Forum. This has now been agreed by the Forum's Building for Peace sub-group and I am sure that the process of its reconstruction, with opportunities for many people to be involved through financial support or by hands-on help, can be an inspiration for the efforts of faith communities everywhere to work together to create peace.
Practical plans. Over an approximate 12 month period, I aim to have all eighteen canvases re-stretched by bonding them to marine plywood panels for exterior use in the re-constructed dome. I also plan to create an interior colour scheme that celebrates the structure by means of translucent colours applied to the back of each panel. For more information about this and other aspects visit https://www.hendersonsmith.co.uk/product/reconstruction-1972-mural-project-human-kindness/ . I also intend to weather-proof the panels by applying epoxy resin to both surfaces. Plans about other technical considerations and full background information are available to download in a nine page PDF by clicking here.