A Majestic and Sublime Edifice: Building Notre Dame Part 1

Welcome back to the Creative Life Adventure.

Most of us – the ones with a little sense, at least – have engaged in a lot of self-isolation and social distancing over the past year. Many, sadly, have been forced into retraining due to job loss, and not all of those jobs will return when the worst of the pandemic has passed. But whatever the circumstances, many of us have filled some of our isolation time by taking on additional creative projects or learning new skills. I’ve written previously about a couple of my own pandemic projects, Reflections on Time and Place and Van Gogh’s Leaves. But over the winter of 2020-21 I felt a need to work more with my hands. Working creatively with your hands – painting, sculpting, gardening, model-building, etc. – engages the mind and body differently than purely mental or abstract creative work, and can reduce stress and anxiety at the same time. I lack the patience to generate a sourdough bread starter, and even here in Florida, winter is not generally the best time for gardening or lawnwork. Instead, I purchased a CubicFun 3D puzzle.

This is not an endorsement for CubicFun; several other companies manufacture similar 3D puzzles. But Cubicfun offers a detailed model of Notre Dame of Paris that recalled my own visit to Notre Dame in 2016. I’m not a religious person, but I was enchanted by the cathedral’s history and grandeur. Victor Hugo was so taken with Notre Dame, he made it central to his 1831 novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame. In fact, the book was first published in France under the title Notre Dame de Paris. One of Hugo’s objectives was to generate public interest in maintenance and restoration of the grand old structure, something that seems relevant again after the cathedral was extensively damaged by fire in April, 2019.

“Without doubt, Notre-Dame de Paris is still a majestic and sublime edifice today. But as beautifully as it has been preserved, as it gets older it is difficult not to sigh, not to be indignant at the degradations, the countless mutilations that both time and man have subjected to the venerable monument…”

Victor Hugo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The view from Notre Dame on a foggy day in Paris

Construction on the real Notre Dame began in 1163 and was mostly completed by 1260, but many modifications and renovations have taken place over the years. From ordinary wear and tear, and from considerable damage the cathedral suffered during the French Revolution that began in 1789, Paris authorities nearly had Notre Dame demolished until Victor Hugo’s novel revived interest in the historic site. Significant renovation went on from 1844 to 1864, and another major renovation was undertaken in the late twentieth century. Prior to the 2019 fire, Notre Dame was a vision inside and out, and city views from the rooftop balcony were breathtaking. Hopefully repairs will soon make that a reality again.

The CubicFun “puzzle” is not a puzzle in the conventional sense. Puzzles can generally be taken apart and reassembled indefinitely. These 3D puzzles are more like model kits, intended to be assembled once and enjoyed in their final form. The model pieces are precision-cut into sheets of paper and EPS foam board. The instructions are comprised of IKEA-style images and very easy to follow. The precision was quite good, I had no trouble fitting the pieces together. The level of detail is excellent.

For a while, it didn’t look like much. But the more progress I made, the more it really started to look like Notre Dame, or at least a good facsimile. I assembled the model during free sections of time here and there, and didn’t keep track of my total assembly time. I think it could be completed in one day, however, if speed is important. Other than a few simple plastic model kits I built as a child, I have no model-building experience, but I worked with patience at a deliberate pace and had no trouble at all with the CubicFun Notre Dame model.

Next week I’ll post the final results of my Notre Dame construction.

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