Creating for the Next 100 Years
Thompson’s Work is an Act of Worship
The restoration of the First Presbyterian Church of Dallas to its 1912 Greek Revival design took years of planning, and teams of engineers and craftsmen, along with much commitment from the congregation. The chancel furniture designed by Erich Thompson ’78 complements the more-than-century-old style, but does not replicate it.
“We could have designed in that style and it would have been fine, but the pieces would have disappeared in the room. During the design conversations, I showed the committee a picture of the sanctuary from the balcony and I asked, ‘What do you see? Where do your eyes go?’ Well, they go to the organ pipes, or the beautiful dome, or the arches or the curves of the pew, they said. In other words, the room competes with the worship leadership for attention and the room is winning.”
The furniture suite does echo the curves around the room, but stands apart with a contemporary silhouette.
Erich fashioned the chancel suite of furniture completely out of German white oak. He named several reasons for that choice: first, it’s more lightweight than American white oak making it easy to carry and rearrange. Second, the pattern of the grain is small and quiet. It adds interest and texture but doesn’t dominate the piece with a large, loopy pattern. Third, one of the great hallmarks of white oak is its color can be changed using an ammonia fuming process, rather than stain. The wood literally changes colors going from a creamy white to chocolate color.
“My dining table, the one we used in Sherman and I use today, was built in 1890 and is still in amazing condition because it’s solidly built. That’s my objective because if something will last 100 years, it will last longer. If there’s a need to repair the finish of the chancel furniture, there’s no need to worry about matching a stain. The color is literally the wood,” Erich said. “There is no stain.”
“This is the maximus of my work: things are what they appear to be. If it looks like wood, it’s wood. If it looks like glass, it’s glass. It’s also good theology. When we start to short change the truth then how do we know where the truth ends and the compromise begins? I work for honesty in the materials,” he said.
As with all creative endeavors, mistakes happen. “I use traditional methods to create untraditional furniture. So I draw these things, and people agree to them; then I have to figure how in the hell I’m going to make that happen,” Erich said. “I learned from Dad and Dick Neidhart (longtime family friend and art professor at Austin College), every mistake is a design opportunity. Our best work can come out of overcoming a mistake. You have to back up and look at it. Will it cost a day or two? Well, that’s OK.”
“The day of dedication was a tour de force,” said Erich. “My furniture was only a piece of it, and one of the focal points. Any way you could express worship we did that day, the point being we can do all things to the glory of God. There were instrumentals, choral, and the liturgy, was amazing. During the dedication their minister said this was a time to re-claim, announce and affirm their ministry. That it was not just a basin, or a pulpit, but he declared it to be a point of ministry and a point of departure to go out and minister to others.”