Jacob’s Ladder


Client: New Brunswick Theological Seminary

Location: New Brunswick, NJ, United States

Completion date: 2016

Project Team


Dr. Gregg Mast, President

New Brunswick Theological Seminary


Ten paintings on silk spiral upward, suspended from a painted aluminum ring to create inviting and dynamic color in a student gathering space. The mobile measures 10 feet high by 4 feet wide, with individual panels suspended using swivels so each can turn independently with air currents. The “Jacob's Ladder” title refers to a story in which a ladder forms between the planes of heaven and earth.


The new seminary building featured a central two story open space in need of color. Below the area, students of diverse cultural and spiritual backgrounds gather and meet. The client was looking for abstracted imagery in saturated hues. Fiber-reactive dyes on silk twill were used to create the dynamic paintings suspended in this vertical spiraling mobile. The dyes were steam set and the silk washed until the water ran clear. The resulting flowing panels move with subtle air currents. Each individual panel is suspended to spin and turn easily. The saturated color of the ascending and descending imagery, and the gentle kinetic nature of the mobile welcome students to the gathering space.


The project began with meetings with Dr. Gregg Mast, president of the seminary and Dr. Willard Ashley, dean, to discuss their vision for the seminary space and to look over portfolio samples. Dr. Mast discussed iconography and importance to him of the Celtic “thin places” (where the boundary, or “veil,” to eternity and “the other side” is thin. Several materials were discussed, including art glass, but the movement and lightness of the silk served best to express the vision for the piece. In the artistic design process, the idea for a kinetic mobile of paintings on silk expressing “Jacob's Ladder” came into focus and was approved. The piece is named after a biblical story in which Jacob is traveling and, as night falls, he takes a stone for a pillow and falls asleep. He has a dream that begins with a ladder stretching between earth and heaven with angels ascending and descending. This dream inspired the vertical spiral of suspended paintings, with an allusion to the “thin places” that can show up when we least expect it.