Mahoney Commission

A terrific project from earlier this year is shown here after being presented to the parents by their three daughters and friends who had commissioned it to celebrate the subjects’ 60th birthdays.


A lot of my sculpture falls into the category I call “memory boxes,” and I’ve gotten some commissions to make such pieces every now and then. The latest was commissioned by three daughters for their parents’ 60th birthdays, and it was a great project. Some members of the family had seen a piece I had done for Annie and Steve Lynch, a sort of memento mori of Annie’s mother, a couple of years back, after her passing (Annie’s mother, not Annie!), an end table that contained objects and images from her and their life.

Annie and Steve are dear longtime friends—not to mention patrons, if you will, since they bought some other work of mine, including Letterbox—and I had some sense of Annie’s mom, and a solid sense of their own life together raising their own family as contemporaries. The subjects of the Mahoney commission were at the start of the project complete strangers, and I first wondered how the process would be in that circumstance. The short report is that the process was fun, even thrilling, largely due to the openness of the daughters and friends of the Mahoney family to share stories, images, and objects of significance to Allison Kempe and Dugan Mahoney.  For most of this project, Emily was in London, doing graduate work at the London School of Economics, and we used Skype and email for our meetings.

I pursued a sofa table or console table form, which made sense to Emily, especially as I quizzed her on the likely location for the piece, which you can see fits quite well in the target placement; my own interest in this form had to do with an early idea I had for under-skirt lighting of transparencies, although the first concept was to take stills from home videos and slightly pixelate them for graphic effect. I ended up choosing to use digital and scanned photographs and documents in simple collage, edited from a large number of submissions from the family and printed on a Canon i9900 inkjet.  The lighting fixtures are two T50 compact fluorescent units, toggle-switched and mounted on a side skirt. The inside area under the removable glass top, composed of an upholstered base using clothing fragments reflecting the subjects and objects and photographs and documents, was lit by LED tape under the top skirt frame, and toggle-switched on the side skirt. There is a rectangular translucent Plexiglas cutout in the center of the bottom, lit from the lighting units under the base, to which I secured several dried rose stems.

The under-skirt illumination lights the transparencies sandwiched between clear and white Plexiglas.


The wood is cherry, milled and built by me, except for the dining table Cabriole legs, which I get from a specialty supplier. Although I often like to present screw joints, I decided to follow a more traditional furniture look by hiding or covering the screw heads. The finish is a four-time rubbed oil application. The glass top was sized and ordered by me, but shipped directly to a sister who lives nearby in Denver.  I built a shipping crate for the main piece, handing off the work—and meeting Emily for the first time—in the parking lot of Mass MOCA; I put the crate on rolling casters, added handles, and made sure that the TSA could inspect the piece, since Emily was flying out of Logan with the commission.

The center of the skirt base has a cut out of Plexiglas, to which I fastened dried roses; the Plexiglas is lighted by the fluorescent T50 units under the skirt base. As to the roses, I dried them by suspending them over my studio’s pellet stove for four weeks, and then used a spray fixative; they hold up quite well over time.


It was a pleasure to create a piece for those still with us, although the gift was a surprise and I couldn’t go directly to the source, as it were, for information, objects and images, or inspiration. Within the cork-lined skirt interior border, I left a section of the side wall blank, since Allison and Dugan are wished to have many more happy years ahead, and they are welcomed to add new pictures themselves.

The light effects work well, both as illumination of the objects and images, and as indirect lighting for a room. The interior LEDs and the under-skirt fluorescent are independently switched, with toggles mounted on the side skirt.

One thought on “Mahoney Commission

  1. David– this new piece is truly breath-taking and shows your perpetual growth as an artist and skilled craftsman. I’ve started a new budget category to save for another commission for our family! Allison and Dugan are still in a state of semi-shock and awe. They are having an experience similar to ours: every time they walk near the table they stop, look at the overall and then find themselves intently focused on an area that fills their heads with wonderful memories, making the past very present. Functional art that never ceases to inspire. Brilliant! Congratulations.
    We love you — Annie and Steve

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *