Art: Making Cheerful Symmetry

George Ortman spent five years making a chess set. He took time because he wanted the playing pieces to be symbols of themselves. The bishop was simple to design—a cross. The rook was square for solidity; the king was a diamond for a regal quality; the queen was a circle for femininity; the pawns were arrows for their singleness of direction. Ortman gave the knight the shape of a heart, for "it is impulsive and moves erratically."

Chess is an orderly, symbolic game, as Ortman, 37, is a man who makes orderly, symbolic art. "I grew up amid action painters," he...

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