The ears and generously proportioned rump of a hippopotamus are all that emerge from beneath a sheet of glass in an illusion so perfect that it is almost surprising to see the rest of its bulbous body in full view on the floor. While this concept has been around the block a few times with dolphins in particular, their heads or tails poking up beyond the glass, using the less graceful, but endearingly cute, shape of a hippo or the playful bodies of frolicking otters does take it to another level. Sculptor Derek Pearce has been producing these functional art pieces called ‘water tables’ since 1997, handcrafting them to order from wood, resin or bronze.
Each table is one-of-a-kind, consisting of a sheet of tempered glass and a sculpted animal in the shape of a hippo, dolphin, otter, seal or a frog perched on rocks. The resin bases are the most affordable, since they are cast rather than hand-sculpted, while the wood versions have all the texture and character you would expect from a natural material.
To make the originals, Pearce carves a piece of wood into the desired animal shape and then apparently slices a slight channel at the desired elevation for the table surface so that it fits snugly into place, creating a double-take-inducing illusion that is particularly effective when viewing the tables from above.
You can purchase a resin version directly at Pearce’s website or commission your own custom design. But Pearce says he understands that buying one of his pieces—which start at nearly $5,000 and go up to $6,500—is not an impulse decision, and he recommends contacting him to discuss the choice, saying “the piece selected needs to sit harmoniously within its setting.”
There’s no doubt that these are conversation pieces. On his sculpture portfolio website, you will find many more wood-and-glass creations depicting camels, a rhododendron bush, rocks, monkeys and even a woman in a bath. It’s a cool way to bring sculptural objects into the home with some added functionality, making them the center of attention in a frequently-used room.
The hippos and ducks have a tranquility to them, while the frolicking otters and dolphins are more playful, and some designs incorporate faux resin rocks. The tempered glass surface plays an important role in the visual effect while providing a place for your books and drinks.
Pearce brings his background as a stage carpenter, musical director, performer, lecturer and woodworking teacher to the table —literally—for this project. His work has traveled the world, with displays in Europe, America and Japan. His work has always been about flow and form, he explains, blending together different techniques and materials. The hippo table is his personal favorite.
“In a world of anonymous, mass-produced commodities, the vision, wit and craftsmanship of Derek Pearce’s singular works provides welcome relief,” says the artist’s website. “Investments they undoubtedly are, reflecting the skill and labour behind their creation, but irresistible to anyone seeking a modern heirloom that will provoke pleasure, amusement and comment for years to come.”