I was recently asked to Lincoln University to demonstrate lettercarving to the British Epigraphy Society, as part of their summer school. This is a group of academics who formed a society in 1996 to promote the study of inscriptions, texts and historical documents in Greek, Latin and other languages. As well as studying the copious Roman inscriptions held in the Lincoln Collection (museum) stores, there was theoretical discussion and practical lessons on how to take a paper cast of an inscription (see image below), done simply using widely available cotton rag paper, water and brushes. As part of this event, I was delighted to be able to talk for an hour on the carving process, then showing the students how to cut, with many of them (including the tutors) having a go themselves. For the record, the process remains very much unchanged for these last 2000 years! www.britishepigraphysociety.org
This month I’m taking part in an exhibition at the beautiful National Trust property Gunby Hall, East Lincolnshire. The Art on the Map group are born out of Lincoln Open Studios, and offer a refreshingly wide range of art and craft from felted clothes and glass and ceramics to metal and stone sculpture, as well as more traditional paintings. If you’re out towards the coast, please drop in – the gardens and cafe (drinks and cake only) are also highly recommended.
It’s been a busy month. In June, Lincoln Cathedral hosted an extraordinary ‘Heritage Skills Festival’, which included for the first time ever City of London Livery Companies leaving London and coming together with Lincoln to celebrate traditional crafts and skills essential to the preservation of the Cathedral. There was everything from stonemasons, embroiderers, plumbers, tilers, turners, scribes, illuminators, glaziers, plaisterers, goldsmiths, horologists, glovemakers and carriagemakers, and more. The Cathedral nave, chapter house, cloisters and east green had the feel of a medieval marker, which was extraordinary. A huge well done to all those involved.
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I made this robin print in the workshop this winter from vinyl. It’s produced from three blocks and printed in three colours – gold background, followed by red then black. Cutting Japanese vinyl is a real pleasure. It’s incredibly soft, allows for a great deal of detail and doesn’t seem to need to be used fresh in the way lino does – available from www.lawrence.co.uk amongst others.
It contrasts with the more rustic feel of using plywood block – see below, made last year with brown and black, for which I use wood cutting tools, and can create different effects.
Hopefully, more time for printing later this year.
Saturday 10th September not only sees Lincolnshire’s Heritage Open Days, but there will be a rare free opportunity to visit Lincoln Cathedral’s Works Department, where you can see the masons, carvers, conservators, plumbers and joiners’ workshops, and meet some of the team who keep Lincoln Cathedral and it’s estate of 80 properties in good condition.
Carving has been on the back-burner recently as I’ve been concentrating on stone conservation more. However, I did find time to make a couple of simple coasters from Cumbrian slate for teachers, as my daughter was leaving primary school.
Meanwhile, a work trip to York Minster in July to meet the Clerk of Works and head mason and conservator gave us a great behind-the-scenes tour, including this glimpse of their carving casts collection.
An inability to say no has led to a busy spring. Here are a couple of pieces of work carried out these last 3-4 months:
The plaque for Stanley Grant at Eckington Church in Derbyshire was cut in a (rare) piece of Hopton Wood (it looks a little patchy here as it is still damp from washing down). An even, hard limestone, it gives a lovely crisp letter and was a favourite of Eric Gill. Only available in very small quantities from Lowes Marble works in Matlock, Derbyshire as it hasn’t been quarried for some time. Best used inside as it weathers to an effect similar to a breakfast cereal (I’m told!).
This Crosland Hill headstone was quite a design challenge. The client wanted a smallish stone, but a lot of references to different parts of the deceased’s life. Therefore, I also used the back of the stone to bring in all the elements she wanted.
Both of the above were designed and drawn by me, and beautifully cut by my colleague Alan Micklethwaite.
Blog posts will resume in 2016, until then, all good wishes for Christmas and the New Year.
Colin Wood is a piece of living history, a character seemingly from a bygone era. This is because Colin is a rare thing in this world of mass and global production; he is the ‘village’ stonemason, living in the beautiful small Lincolnshire Wolds town of Caistor.
When I was cleaning Caistor war memorial last year, a sprightly older gentleman quietly introduced himself, telling me that his stonemason grandfather had erected the monument. He invited me a cup of tea, and his fascinating story began to unfold.
Colin still works out of the same C18th workshop that his grandfather began working from in the 1880s. However, unlike every other mason’s workshop I’ve visited, with its air-tools, grinders and computers, Colin’s workshop is pretty much unchanged from the nineteenth century. Working alone, entirely by hand (even his invoices are hand-written), his workshop has a pre-war feel about it that even the best National Trust curator couldn’t reconstruct. The distempered walls are covered with pencil sketches of memorial designs by the two generations who went before him. Many of his everyday tools are family heirlooms. In his charming house next door to the workshop are order books and receipts dating from the 1880s onwards – including a poignant gap during and just after the First World War.
Colin was taught letter drawing and carving by his father, and his style show an unbroken line to late C19 work, unselfconscious and not influenced by the likes of Gill, Kindersley et al. This in itself is fascinating, as Colin works in a 12-15 radius; once a local style would have been typical in any small town or village, and can still be seen in the churchyards in the pre-Victorian headstones, but now this is practically unknown (monumental mason workshop use computers, standard fonts, stencils and machinery for their inscriptions). Very content with his craft, Colin remains a busy man. However, tellingly, when I ask about apprentices, he tells me young people are baffled as to “why he wants to do it the slow way”. On leaving, I can’t help feeling a little sad that more than fifty years of experience and three generations of work will eventually come to an end when this gentle man finally packs away his chisels.
House names can be beautiful functional items. They should be visible from a distance, and contain well-spaced, clear letterforms. The one below was recently completed, carved from (particularly hard) Crosland Hill sandstone. The client had specified the size of the stone ( 21″ x 14″ ) as it was to go on a long outbuilding and she didn’t want it to look ‘lost’ on the lengthy wall. However, when drawing up the design, my usual mantra of ‘bolder the better’ on sandstone didn’t seem to apply as the lettering was in danger of looking absurdly large, even when passed at speed in a car! So, I decided to reduce the size of the letters a little and take up some of the space with a wide textured border. Creating a tooled frame around the design provides interest for the eye without distracting from the clarity of the sign, improving the overall look of the carving.