Stonecarvers Ireland Road Trip

Dan, my assistant, and I have been working in Ireland for a few days and covering a fair few miles.

Last Autumn, coincidentally I was asked by three clients to carve memorials in Ireland. They seemed to be struggling to find designer makers in Ireland making this kind of hand carved work. I was able to orchestrate things so we could bring them over and install them together. We both love Ireland, the music and landscape and Dan’s uncle lives in Kerry, so we popped across to see him too.

Our first stop was Clandeboye cemetery in Bangor, near Belfast, where we installed this Welsh slate memorial.

We stayed in the Cairn Bay Lodge B&B which was really good with amazing views and food. In the afternoon we drove to the Giant’s Causeway, somewhere I’ve always wanted to go.

We then had an evening in Belfast, ending up in The Points watching champion fiddler Niall Mcclean.

The next job was down in Kilkenny, but we decided to go via Connemara to check out the marble. We saw a bit but the yards were closed. We saw huge quarry blocks that were ratchet-strapped to stop them falling apart, which was alarming. It’s mainly green and riddled with cracks. I was told that it’s soaked in glue prior to sawing it in order to strengthen it. Nevertheless it’s quite attractive.

The next job was for a couple in Kilkenny. The stone was Mountcharles Sandstone from Donegal. This looks similar to Yorkstone but seemed twice as heavy and was harder to work. The carved element was inspired by a ring. I carved it in a panel, but also raised it beyond the level of the face of the stone, by starting off with a raised circle. This enabled me to make it bolder and for it not to appear to be sunk into the stone.

We then visited a local stonemason who generously took us to see the Kilkenny limestone quarry in Paulstown. This was awesome. It’s vast.

The clients took us out for a lovely meal and drinks in Kilkenny city, which is a really nice place.

The next day, we moved on to Enniskerry to install a Yorkstone memorial for Katy French. She was a model, celebrity and charity worker well known in Ireland. The tree of life carving is a simplified version of one I carved some years ago.

After a night in Stillorgan (!) We headed off to Dublin to explore, and it was during gay pride, so the city was vibrant, to say the least. We ended up in Devitts Bar watching a great duo, including a wonderful squeezebox player called Neil Harney. Here’s a snippet taken as my phone died.

We then headed west for the rest of the time, enjoying Kenmare and the Kerry/Cork region. One highlight was seeing Dan’s cousin Aisling Urwin play harp and sing. She’s so talented. Her voice is angelic and her playing sublime. She’s about to tour Europe and America over the coming months so keep an ear out for her.

It was interesting to see how there seems to be very few carvers in Ireland and how there’s a demand for well designed, hand carved bespoke memorials. I’m looking forward to coming over again.

Moleanos limestone and glass

we drove to Cumbria yesterday to install a stone in Carlisle cemetery. It was an experimental piece with raised carvings showing that Daniel (PODGE) was very into his bicycles, and also incorporating a glass element, which really brings the stone to life. The glass was made to order as a one-off by Joseph Harrington,  glass sculptor.

see these pictures:

Some recent work

After a busy time in the workshop Dan and I have been installing a few stones. Below are some pictures. The first few are York stone, and the bottom ones are Westmorland slate.

Syderstone
York stone, Syderstone church, Norfolk
Holt
York stone, Holt church, Norfolk
East Horsley
York stone, East Horsley, Surrey
East Horsley
York stone, East Horsley, Surrey
Bale
York stone, Bale church, Norfolk
Bale
York stone, Bale church, Norfolk
Burton Joyce
Honister slate (riven) Burton Joyce, Notts.
Burton Joyce
Honister slate (honed) Burton Joyce, Notts.

Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital sculpture

I have been working on a stone to go outside the entrance to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. It is being commissioned by the Hospital Arts Project, in conjunction with the Organ Donation Department of the hospital. It is being carved out of a large block of Woodkirk stone form Yorkshire.

Woodkirk stone in the yard
Woodkirk stone in the yard

Here are some images of it in the stone yard where I selected the block. The block was around 4 tonnes before work started.

I have designed the sculpture to incorporate some lettering and a seat. The wording comes from Kahlil Gibran’s book The Prophet (although we have changed it slightly) in the section concerned with GIVING. The theme was intended to parallel the act of giving of yourself physically as in organ donation, while also having a more spiritual dimension. There will also be some plants carved into the stone later on. Here are some more progress pictures.

hospital letters drawn
hospital letters drawn
hospital lettering unfinished
lettering half finished
hospital seat
the seat

Coltishall memorials

One of my current obsessions is looking at 17th and 18th Century memorials, and Norfolk has a fine selection of these. Here are a few I photographed recently in Coltishall.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I install my own memorial work all over Britain, and am always looking out for good examples of 17-18th century carving. Some stones from this period are very finely executed by master carvers that also studied typefaces, whereas other more “naive” examples were carved by jobbing masons, these are often more powerful in their impact, and the designs are often less carefully concieved. Often the carver will start the lettering top left and just see what happens in terms of how the words fit the stone. Some of the examples above are beautiful and obviously very carefully set out and carved, whereas others are less refined, the imagery is more direct and less “pretty”. If this is something you’re interested in I have many more photographs like these on my flickr pages. This is an ongoing project, and I am adding to these continually.

While I was in Coltishall I saw the above plaque outside on the church wall. This is an impressive piece of work with a lot of letter-cutting, (but it was rather difficult to photograph in the flat light). The wording is what made me want to post this image though, and it reads thus:

Sacred to the Memory of SIDAY HAWES and ELIZABETH his wife.
SIDAY HAWES was born at BURY in Suffolk, 8th October 1748
and died at 6th October 1827, in the 79th Year of his Age.
He was a Man of excellent understanding and great moral worth,
pious, just, and conscientious.
ELIZABETH, his wife, was the only daughter of HUGGINS PORSON,
parish clerk of EAST RUSTON and was Sister of RICHARD PORSON, late Greek
Professor in the University of CAMBRIDGE.
She was born 27th April, 1756, married 27th November 1786, and
died 7th March, 1842 in the 86th Year of Her Age.
She had by nature a strong and capacious mind, which she
found time to cultivate amidst the hardships of her early
life, and the various employments of her later Years:
whilst her piety and benevolence made her take delight in relieving
the sufferings of the poor, for she had both seen and felt what
those sufferings were. And thus, to the day of her Death,
she shared her own prosperity with the
class from which she sprang.
Happy herself she tried to make those around her happy, and with
firm and cheerful trust in the promises of our blessed Saviour,
she looked forward to Death, not as an evil but as a
glorious change of existence.
“O DEATH, WHERE IS THY STING? O GRAVE WHERE IS THY VICTORY?”
They had Seven children, two of them died young, and were buried
in this Church at the East end of the South Aisle.

Swithland Slate

This slate was quarried until the early 1900’s in the Charnwood Forest area,  and was used for a lot of the Vale of Belvoir Angel memorials as well as for earlier slates and memorials all around the east midlands. There were several small quarries as far as I can tell and here’s one I found on the outskirts of the village of Swithland. I had hoped to bring a little piece back as a souvenir but it was extremely dangerous……….basically a pit filled with possibly very deep water edged by sheer “cliffs” of slate.

click to enlarge

The village church has many wonderful slate memorials, some very accomplished pieces of carving and some more crude. The earliest was from 1673.
here are a few examples but there are more on my flickr pages.

Eyam – plague village

On our recent trip to Derbyshire, we visited the village of Eyam which was very close to where we were staying. Eyam is known as “the plague village”.

In 1665 the village tailor received a parcel from London and it contained some bundles of material and with it plague infected fleas. He was dead within a week. The disease spread rapidly. Some people wished to flee but the rector, the Rev. William Mompesson introduced precautions to slow the spread of the illness, including the arrangement that families were to bury their own dead and the relocation of church services from the church of St Lawrence to outdoors at Cucklett Delph to allow villagers to separate themselves, reducing the risk of infection. The best-known decision was to quarantine the entire village to prevent further spread of the disease. The plague raged in the village for 14 months, taking at least 260 lives.

We visited the small yet packed Eyam museum, which was very informative, and well laid out and brought the tragedy that fell upon this village to life very well.  Then we visited the parish church with its rich array of lettering and stone carving. There are some pictures below, including a plague grave from 1665, some wonderfully bold stone carvings taken from tombs and also some images of the Saxon Cross in the churchyard, of which Pevsner says : “notable for the survival of the head, coarse vine scrolls and interlace on the shaft, of which unfortunately the top two feet or so are missing. The date is probably early 9th Century”.

Note for lettering nerds: on the plague memorial pictured above, which reads:

ABELL THE SONNE

OF THOMAS & ALICE

ROWLAND WAS BU

RIED JAN THE 15TH

1665

it is well worth a look at the rich abundance of “ligatures” (the joining of letters) the THE and NN and AL and WA and more TH’s. I think it’s a lovely stone. It seems nicely spaced overall and yet the fact that the word BU – RIED is split onto two lines makes one wonder if it was just carved directly with no preliminary design, despite the strong overall balance of the inscription.

See my flickr pages for more Eyam pictures.

German lettering design

Some wonderful German lettering.

The first image here shows the lettering produced by the workshop of Sepp Jacob in Germany. The work he produced was very sculptural and direct and a wonderful blend of good strong lettering and an understanding of materials. This piece reminds me of the German font Neuland which was designed by Rudolf Koch.

Neuland is based on the handwriting of Rudolf Koch (as are all of his typefaces). Its simplicity and unusual shapes derive from the difficult and demanding art of punchcutting. In fact, it may be the only typeface designed by actually cutting the punches; Koch made no preliminary drawings, it is almost as though the punches themselves were sculpted, and these were then used in casting the type itself. Neuland was designed in 1923 and it became enormously popular as an advertising typeface. It is a sans serif, all-capital design with angular features, obliqued strokes and a slight concavity to some of the vertical strokes. Used with restraint, it can lend power and persuasion to display work, as it did when forming the basis for titles appearing in the film Jurassic Park.

Optima is another wonderful example of German lettering design. It was designed by Hermann Zapf, Contemporary German calligrapher, teacher, book designer and one of the 20th century’s most significant type designers. In the mid 1930’s Zapf studied the writing manuals of Rudolf Koch and Edward Johnston and taught himself. Zapf has designed some of the 20th century’s most important fonts, including Palatino and Optima, and some of my other favourites such as Michaelangelo, Sistina, and the wonderfully calligraphic Zapfino.