[Editor’s note: Hanging above the mantle in North Wind Manor’s library is a starkly beautiful piece of art made by Tim Joyner, in collaboration with the old North Wind Manor. See, this work is comprised of found elements from the Manor as the Rabbit Room staff knew it from before it was restored: fragments and pieces of a history we wanted to preserve. The finished work is called As It Is, and one of the greatest joys of Opening Week was hearing Tim describe how it came to be, from conception to completion. Here is the text that he read to us.]
As it Is depicts the original Rabbit Room in The Eagle and Child. It snapshots the top edge of the dark oak paneling and the firelight-honeyed plaster—the spot right above where the heads of the Inklings would be gathered in discussion. The subtle swirls of soot call to mind the ideas rising like the pipe smoke of the friends just out of view. Here they convive, naming the stuff of earth and dreaming the stuff of heaven. Lewis invites us “Further up! Further in!” into the ever-deeper nature of all created things. Barfield shows us the Word hiding in the word. Williams reminds us of the love that binds the whole world together. Tolkien offers recovered vision that sees magic and wonder and holiness latent in Creation and sub-creation alike. Their imaginations, friendship, and work claim this space as sacred, but never sanctimonious. They remain grounded by pure enjoyment of the smell of the fire and good beer, the earthiest and simplest pleasures. In short, these were men who understood things as they are and as they one day will be—earth as it is in heaven.
Their way of looking at the world is echoed in the pigment choices for this piece. For the most part, these are simple and raw materials. But even just a little attention, a little care, brings out their deeper essence. Just to name the pigments is a sort of poem, or even a spell:
Oak Char, Gold Leaf
Acorn Cap Ink (add a few drops of Oak Lye and watch it ease into a rich auburn)
Iron Glimmer (yes, that’s really what it’s called)
Mica Flakes, Copper Flakes
Brick, Soil, and Chips of Paint from North Wind Manor
Lamp Black, Verdigris, pickled Rock Tripe
Oak-Leaf and Acorn Dust
Oak Gall Ink (brewed from a recipe used by the old Illuminators)
It really doesn’t take much to coax magic from the mundane. And if even dirt and ash and last year’s decaying leaves are brimming over with magic and beauty and story, just waiting to astound and inspire, then how much brighter the glories hidden in you and me as icons of the Living God.
You might notice that many of the pigments for this particular painting are derived from the oak tree. This was an intentional choice, an attempt to unveil the hidden glories of the oak, to join the Inklings in their work of seeing the redeemed, truer nature of earthly things.
To know Oak, we start by remembering Ramandu’s lesson: the oak tree is not roots and trunk, branches and leaves—that’s just what it’s made of. It’s rippled light filtering through leaves, home to furred and feathered hosts, dappled shade on a hot afternoon. It’s fragile shoots, flexible saplings, unshakeable giants. It’s acorn meal and depression-desperation coffee and firewood and furniture. It’s the paneling of the Rabbit Room. It shares the knowledge of afternoons-in-late-summer-sun and autumn-evenings-by-the-fire with wine and whiskey.
And it’s full of secret colors. There’s the velvety black of charcoal, still warm with the memory of flame. Then there’s purplish oak-gall-black, born of the symbiosis of tree and wasp, the ink that for so many centuries was used to copy sacred texts. Acorn cap ink is the lively, quicksilver gray of the squirrel’s tail—but add the dead, dull gray of oak ash and it alchemizes into the luminous brown of a polished acorn.
Oak is also the stories we tell of it. It’s Boo’s oak, the Hundred-Acre Wood, the wisdom of Treebeard, Zeus’s oracle, and the oaks of Mamre where Abraham ate with God.
Before we can see the oak as it is, we must recover the knowledge of all it has been and will ever be. To truly know any part of a thing, we must in some sense know all of it. Of course this is an endless quest (“for now we know in part”). This was work at which the Inklings excelled and that the Rabbit Room community has continued. As this community gathers at the hearths of North Wind Manor (or in their own homes and churches and places of comfort around the world), though separated by time and space, I imagine us joining those men in a conversation; our dreams, ideas, friendships, and songs rising to swirl and meld with their own. We are sub-creators, sub-artists, sub-knowers—made in the image of the Artist who knows us, knows the secrets of our flesh, the intimacies of our stories. He reveals all the truth of what we are and what we are destined to become. And when he sees us as we are—in the fullness of all that we are—the histories that shaped us, the bare truth of our present selves, the hope of what me might and will become—he sees in our simple and raw selves hidden glory, secret colors waiting to be coaxed out and burnished and enjoyed.
May we be on earth as we will be in heaven. May it be on earth as it is in heaven.