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Marvin Avenue Chess Club

By Hardy Jones

Welcome to the Marcin Avenue Chess Club

The Chess Set:

Playing chess on my supersize chessboard is quite an experience! Walking for the first time among the chess pieces during combat, or standing next to a vulnerable chessman threatened by attack, one actually feels the pressure. Surprisingly to me, after decades of playing chess, this new large-scale play is quite different from moving miniature chess pieces across a tabletop chessboard.

My fascination with the game of chess began early, growing up playing chess with my father, the late Professor Hardin B. Jones of the University of California, Berkeley. Years later as a sculptor I fantasized welding a playable, life size chess set, and actually began collecting salvage metal treasures for this venture around 2001, then welding and blacksmithing the project in 2008.

Photo by Erin Bibeau

Working from sketches, I started with a single pawn. Satisfied, I continued making a row of eight identical pawns. Next, I developed the back row, completing the first army of 16 pieces and finishing all 32 pieces, both armies, in the summer of 2009. With the chess set standing finished, I built a matching enormous chessboard. And, with my “Alice In Wonderland” chessboard set up in our courtyard, family, friends and I began playing. –

“The Marvin Avenue Chess Club (M.A.C.C.)” was born.

Photo by Erin Bibeau

Chess Set Design:

This one of a kind, life size, hand forged, 32 piece chess set project was a joyful journey, decades in the musing, nine years in the collecting, and one year in the making. Early on I could envision many possibilities for the design from totally abstract pieces to lifelike chessmen. Yet, my sketchpad consistently returned to the classical European design: Fortress castle, knighted horseman, and tall bishop standing beside the crowned king and queen, with a proud row of identical pawns lined up in front. Above all I wanted symmetry and simplicity of design, and I wanted each piece to be interesting as a stand-alone work.

Photo by Erin Bibeau

When set up on my jumbo chessboard, the opposing Norman and Bavarian chess armies are similar, but actually distinguishable by color and the coat of arms. The chessmen are identified by their unique size and design: pawn, castle, knight, bishop, king, or queen. Here, too, as with the typical table chess set, the shorter row of 8 pawns lines up across the front row, and the taller row (castle, knight, bishop, queen, and king) stands behind the pawns. The monarchs of my chess set, king and queen, standing tallest almost at human height of five feet.

It took years to collect salvage metal treasures for this grand scale project. I amassed a mountain of brake drums for the bases of the 32 chessmen in order to have 16 matching drums for the base of one army, and 16 for the opposing army. Furthermore, for each army I needed 8 identical but smaller size brake drums for the pawns, and larger for the back row pieces. -- The total parts inventory necessary for this project included the swords, shields, coat of arms, scepters, arms, bases, legs, bodies, heads, and crowns for welding two entire armies, each with a front row of eight identical pawn foot soldiers. What a challenge! For example, I wanted antique tractor wrenches for the arms of my pawns and kings, and after years of collecting did not have matching sets…so, finally, I hand forged the needed wrenches in the blacksmith shop of my buddy, Grant Marcoux.

Jones With Norman Army

Photo by Elliott Burr

At last I was finished: 32 pieces and both armies completed! For amusement I named the two opposing armies: The Norman Army and the Bavarian Army. The Norman army with King William the Conqueror (Duke of Normandy) commands his french chessmen, and for the Bavarian army, the Burgher King with his “Burger King” crown reigns supreme.

Bavarian Army

Photo by Erin Bibeau

Playing the Chess Game:

Playing on the big board with the super heavy chess pieces proved a bit of a challenge: Lifting and moving the substantial, solid metal pieces across the board, almost impossible!…especially biggest pieces, i.e. the castle and king, which weigh approximately 70 pounds each, and castles can scoot the full length of the board on a single move! -- We tried using hand truck dollies to move the big pieces, but this too proved unwieldy. Finally we hit upon a successful solution: Roller dollies! I customized painted wooden roller dollies for all 32 chess pieces, matching the already painted red and black bases for each army. Roller dollies made it possible to move the chessmen easily, gliding them across the board and into position. Game on!

Bavarian Army in Garden - Notice the roller dollies...Game time!

Photo by Erin Bibeau

Challenge Jones to a Game:

Photo by Elliott Burr

Photos by Erin Bibeau

Photography: My special thanks to photographer, Erin Bibeau for her professional skills, and to the enthusiastic members of the M.A.C.C. for transporting the chess set to the photography studio, setting up the jumbo board, positioning pieces for each photo, and then afterwards trucking everything back to my studio and unloading. Thank you Erin, your digital photography makes it possible for me to share The Marvin Avenue Chess Club sculpture with a worldwide audience!

Outer Space Photographs of the Marvin Avenue Chess Set:

Amusingly, in 2010 with the chessboard setup in our courtyard, I happened to check Google’s Planet Earth… and surprise! As viewed from outer space there appeared to be a checkerboard in our back yard! The Planet Earth’s satellite photographs have since been updated, but it is amusing to know the M.A.C.C’s chessboard is visible from outer space!

Setup & Storage of the Chess Set: Special thanks to my lovely wife, Jane, for encouraging me during this project and allowing me to have my enormous chessboard and armies set up and dominate our tranquil, lovingly tended garden courtyard.

Early on it was easy to accommodate the arrival of the few new pieces. But, as life-sized chessmen began to accumulate and armies of chess pieces spill outside the confines of my studio, it became apparent that this entire artistic inspiration, however wonderful, needs to go somewhere. -- Ah, but what fun the six months the chess set was in our courtyard! It made the local papers3, hosted a chess tournament and several private parties, became the backdrop for wedding photographs, made Google’s Planet Earth, and was enjoyed by us all. Nevertheless, the chess set needs a home! As an interim solution, I purchased two large garden sheds and placed them beside of our house (one for each army), and also a third smaller shed to stack the chessboard squares. --

What is next? Most certainly, The Marvin Avenue Chess Set needs to be displayed and appreciated. I am confident the opportunity will be revealed. In the meantime, game anyone?

Hardy Jones In The Studio Photo by Cyndy Patrick


1. Hardy Jones public sculptures in Los Altos area schools, Article March 2013, Los Altos Patch, by Cyndy Patrick

3. News Paper articles about Hardy Jones’s remarkable Marvin Avenue Chess Club chess set:

a. Sept. 2, 2009 Los Altos Town Crier: “Local Sculptor Crafts Giant Chessboard”

b. Dec. 16, 2009 Los altos Town Crier: “Egan Chess Club Takes On Local Sculptor”

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