A Portal in the Forest

Walking down the trail to Evergreen’s Organic Farm, people can now find a beautiful new Japanese style gate, built courtesy of the students enrolled in the 2010 woodworking program, Machiya, taught by faculty member Daryl Morgan.

wabi sabi

The new Japanese-style gate.

Built from locally harvested Port Orford cedar, Douglas fir and red cedar, the gable-roofed, six-post structure incorporates elements of both Sukiya and Shoin style architecture, and pays tribute to longstanding connections between Evergreen and Japan, such as the college’s student exchange programs with universities in Miyazaki and Kobe. An imposing 16' tall, 16' wide and 13' deep, it is reminiscent of the roofed, open-portal mountain gates erected during the 17th and 18th centuries along mountain trails leading to Japanese temples.

Daryl Morgan at the gate

Daryl Morgan at the gate.

As the capstone project of a series of classes in traditional Japanese architecture and building practices, the gate was constructed by 22 students and seven volunteers. It was built entirely by hand—from the milling of the timber to the splitting of the red-cedar roof shingles—in Evergreen’s Wood Shop. Once all the pieces were ready, the structure was erected on site in two days. “It was literally finished on graduation day,” says Morgan. “After the ceremony, the graduating seniors in the class took off their robes, climbed on the roof and put on the shingles.”

From the outset, the gate was designed to “embody the whole idea of modesty and impermanence— wabi-sabi,” says Morgan, a master woodworker who studied his craft in Japan for five years and is one of the few non-Japanese people in the world to be certified as a miya-daiku, a highly skilled temple carpenter who stands at the pinnacle of the profession.

Two of the gateposts are marked by hand-carved Japanese characters called kanji. According to Morgan, the four on the left—Farm, Sun, Rain and Book—essentially mean, “farm when it’s sunny, read when it’s raining.” The four on the right—Thousands, Flowers, Bloom, Profusion—mean, “the work of many hands create things of beauty.”

Working on the gate.

Working on the gate.

Raising the gate.

Raising on the gate.

Members of the class also built two benches for the gate, which await installation. A bronze plaque will be added with the name of the program, the year it was built and the names of the people involved. Plans are being made to add native landscaping around it. Beyond that, says Morgan “We’re looking now toward the future toward the possibility of building on the success of this project for future projects around campus.”

The Japanese gate project was made possible by funding provided by Evergreen’s Evening and Weekend Studies department and donations of timber and materials from Puget Sound Energy and the City of Olympia’s Urban Forestry program.

View pictures showing the process of building the gate on Blogspot and Flickr.