Thursday, April 28, 2016

ArtSpace Labyrinth

More than a spiral, less than a maze, labyrinths are meditative by intent. True, a spiral pattern would compress a similar walking distance into the same area, but due to its simple symmetry, will not engage the mind to the same extent. A labyrinth’s occasional U-turns require just enough low level attention to clear the mind of intruding thoughts, whereas mazes engage more of the conscious mind in order to solve the puzzle of the path, limiting their meditative value.

The distinction between labyrinths and mazes is that the former has one entrance, which doubles as the exit, and no branching choices. The path goes to the center and returns. Mazes have multiple branching choices, so there are always “right” and “wrong” ways to go. Typically, labyrinth borders are low to the ground or even painted on a floor. The center is visible from the entrance, and from all points within the labyrinth. Walking across the lines is always an option. In contrast, mazes can be waist-high hedges, head-topping cornfields or even the claustrophobic trees in the movies The Shining or Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Whence labyrinths? Crete’s myth placed the Minotaur at the center of what was more likely a maze than a labyrinth. Hopi Indians incorporated labyrinths into woven basket patterns. Walking medieval labyrinths, famously Chartres Cathedral, France, symbolized Pilgrims’ progress to the Holy Land. Northern European peoples built hundreds of labyrinths, called “Troy Towns” on stony shorelines. In Finland these were also referred to as “Jatulintarha,” which translates as “Giant’s Yard.”

Maynard’s publicly accessible labyrinth is part of the front lawn of ArtSpace, at 63 Summer Street. Lisa Bailey, artist and landscape architect, proposed, designed, and with volunteer help, constructed this project in 2007. It uses a Classic design, which can also be called a Cretan (after Crete) or 7-path design. Bailey visited other labyrinths before constructing this one, including those at Grace Cathedral, in San Francisco.

Maynard ArtSpace Labyrinth under construction, 2007
Her project involved spray-painting the lines, digging trenches, filling trench bottoms with stone dust and then setting granite blocks weighing 5 to 20 pounds in the stone dust. The entire effort took about one month. Financial support for the project came from the Maynard Cultural Council, Maynard Community Gardeners, ArtSpace and ArtSpace artists, and individual contributions.

For the numerically curious: this labyrinth is 28 by 32 feet across and the border contains 536 granite blocks. It contains approximately 3.5 tons of stone and more than 4 tons of stone dust. Edge to center, straight line, is less than 15 feet; following the path inward and then out again is 310 feet.

Bailey wrote “There is no right or wrong way to walk the labyrinth path…you may want to reflect on where you are in your life…or simply let your thoughts go and quiet your mind. When you reach the center, take some time to reflect, if you wish. The labyrinth is a metaphor for the journey of life.”

In addition to the labyrinth, ArtSpace has recently added an outdoor sculpture exhibit in front of the building.      

An excellent site for historical and modern aspects of labyrinths is  Massachusetts has more than 90 labyrinths registered either with the Labyrinth Guild of New England ( or at These include indoor, outdoor, church, public and private. For many, the registries include photos, directions and a contact person. The Guild’s calendar lists events, and it is also possible to rent labyrinths painted on canvas for your own event. Temporary labyrinths can be stomped into the snow or shaped in damp sand at low tide. This year, World Labyrinth Day is May 7th.

A version of this column was first published in the Beacon-Villager in September 2010. Since then innumerable visits by people of all ages to the ArtSpace labyrinth have worn away much of the grass of the path.

David Mark and his son Daniel Alexander D'Amico Mark were two of the volunteers who helped build the labyrinth (blue and red shirts in the photo).   

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