Keith Ackerman | Jacob’s Ladder

Stiffen the Sinews Photo: Adam Glatherine (Detail of Jacob’s Ladder)

Jacob’s Ladder is a sculpture by Keith Ackerman which, when scaled up from its current size would form the centrepiece for an area of amenity space bounding Tunstall Road and Dewsbury Road, South Leeds. Jacob’s Ladder is a story that occurs in The Bible, The Qu’ran and The Torah that symbolises a physical connection between Earth and Heaven. There can also be a secular reading for the sculpture with the idea of steps to improvement.

This sculpture would be made using the technique of direct carving, a traditional method of sculpting stone by hand, from locally sourced limestone, thereby making a connection physically and conceptually with the bedrock of the local area.

"Stone is the direct link to the heart of the matter - a molecular link. When I tap it, I get an echo of that which we are. Then the whole universe has resonance." Isamu Noguchi

An Interview . . .

The following interview is taking place by e-mail and will be updated with each response over the course of the Index Festival and On The Corner. . .

BD: Could you tell us a bit about your background and what has led you to stone carving?

KA: After a career as a Chartered Electrical Engineer I came to sculpting late. Following sculpting courses at Bradford and York colleges, including 7 years with the sculptor Dominic Hopkinson, I concentrate on stone carving and glass casting as my main artistic processes. My sculptures are abstract and often made from local stone. 

BD: There are many different avenues that one could go down in art, what was it about sculpture in particular that inspired you to take that route?

KA: A friend I shared a house with at university 40 years ago remembers me saying that “I had wanted to be a sculptor and known it for a while”. I have no recollection of this statement. However I do remember loving the craft pottery that my Mum made and going to exhibitions with her.In particular I remember going to see and liking Naum Gabo’s Linear Construction No 1 at the Tate.

BD: Could you say something about your love of direct carving in relation to the quote on your website as that seems to hold the key to how you feel about the difference in approach between the use of tools and making by hand.

"Stone is the direct link to the heart of matter - a molecular link. When I tap it I get an echo of that which we are. Then, the whole universe has resonance. " Isamu Noguchi.

These words sum up the sense of quietude and connection with something ancient and vast that I get when carving stone with a mallet and chisel. The iterative nature of carving hard stones slowly until the form of a sculpture looks and feels correct is a meditative and soulful experience that I love and feel very lucky to have discovered later in life.

BD: What then can you tell us about the sculpture Jacob's Ladder? This already exists, not as a maquette but more an inspiration for the piece which BasementArtsProject has commissioned? What can you tell us about the story and it's relation to this piece and the other non-art related work that you do within the community across Leeds

KA: In the book of Genesis, in a chapter called Vyetsey in the Torah, it is described how Jacob lay down with a stone for his pillow. Jacob then dreams of a Ladder or staircase from earth to heaven with angles going up and down on it.
As Bill Shackman of Conservative Yeshiva Alum writes: “We are moving towards or away from our goals, up or down the ladder. We advance towards shelter, towards justice, towards freedom and towards hope, though many obstacles cause us to tumble downwards. Angels go up and down sending help and hidden messages.”

I hope that the finished public sculpture and the accompanying workshops will act as a source of inspiration for the people of Beeston to explore their own dreams and ways of making society a better place.

I have strong links with Beeston made through interfaith projects run by Mahbub Nazir and I over the past ten years. These projects bring together young people of disparate ethnic, social and religious backgrounds - young people who would otherwise be unlikely to meet - to enable them to take part in sport and other activities that will boost their confidence and self-esteem and help to bridge differences between them. A key element of these projects is facilitated dialogue which helps advance sustainable cross-community reconciliation. See https://www.bridgingdifference.org.uk/for information about projects continuing the work started in Beeston in areas across Leeds.

More soon . . . .

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The Process . . .

Keith Ackerman | Jacob’s Ladder. (2017) Marble. Photo: Adam Glatherine

Selecting stone

Keith Ackerman | Sketch Book pages for scaling up design onto new piece of stone (Stone - front face)

Keith Ackerman | Sketch Book pages for scaling up design onto new piece of stone (Stone - right-hand side)

Keith Ackerman | Sketch Book pages for scaling up design onto new piece of stone (Stone -Left hand side)

Keith Ackerman | Sketch Book pages for scaling up design onto new piece of stone (Stone -Left hand side w/ overlaid design for staircase)

Test Carving

Beginning work on the larger carving