Photo by Frank Green

Leviathan, tambour (rolltop) desk
38 x 39 ¼ x 22 inches
English sycamore, Port Orford cedar, cow leather (writing surface), shellac, wax

The following is a dialogue between Sarah Marriage and Cara Marsh Sheffler:

SM: The idea behind the desk was Moby-Dick. It's about the act of chasing. The metaphor of the chase was evident in the scope of the project. I was a student at the College of the Redwoods when I made this desk, and as I designed the piece I tried to incorporate as many technical challenges and complexities as I could imagine for myself. Previously, I had made a music stand, in which I took into consideration the needs of the performer, the owner, and the musician. When I made this piece, I asked Cara, a writer, what she required in a desk.

CMS: For starters, I hate drawers. I like large, open spaces on which I can create. I had fantasized about owning a partners' desk for as long as I have been writing at a desk. Sarah asked me about these needs, but ultimately what caught her imagination more was my favorite book: Moby-Dick.

SM: I started with the whiteness of the whale, and that took me to English sycamore. Knowing Cara was not terribly interested in drawers, I still wanted to create a sense of interiority and exteriority. That led me to the tambour (i.e., roll-top) solution. Then, I tried to draw roll-tops that looked like whales. And failed. Then, I went with curves that emanated naturally from the arc of my arm.

CMS: Sarah didn't even know that I had written on a roll-top desk for most of my childhood.

SM: The design of the desk started to build on these ideas of a very white wood and a sense of interiority and exteriority. Specifically, the ultra-white, calfskin writing surface is the core of this private, concealed space. That space is framed by curled sycamore; the side interiors limn the leather with a starburst; the cosmetic back panel glistens with "flames"—cross-grain to the wood. Moving outward, the lines of the exterior parquetry radiate in a starburst (capturing the "flaming curl" of the sycamore), and then extrude at a 90-degree angle across the width of the desk to the opposite side.

CMS: I was moved by this execution in that—to me—it embodied a certain chase of an ideal. The symmetry of this piece is utterly impossible, as it always must be when working with wood, Sarah's medium. Yet, the chase of something perfect is universal to Melville, as it is to any artist. And, in that way, I think her desk is a testament to anyone who strives for something slightly beyond her reach.