Last weekend I spent three days on a busman’s holiday at West Dean College in West Sussex (https://www.westdean.org.uk/study). Set in stunning gardens and beautiful landscape, the college is a leading venue for short courses in the arts as well as conservation (we sometimes send our team to courses from Lincoln Cathedral Works Department).
My course was carving plant forms, with talented and lovely Jo Sweeting www.josweetingsculpture.com. Although I could have attempted to lock myself in my own workshop to carve for three days, anyone who tries to juggle family (or other responsibilities) and work will know in reality that this simply won’t happen – particularly as there is always your paid work on the bench and easel staring at you! Much easier to let someone else cook beautiful food for you and have no other distractions. Below is the start of my piece, carved in Lincoln Redbed limestone – soft to carve and a warm pale ochre colour. As yet unfinished, I might manage to complete it before next year’s course…!
I was recently asked by Skillington Workshop Ltd to look at this beautiful little plaque. Set in to the wall of Burnsall Church, nr. Skipton, N. Yorkshire it’s a rare survival of what would have likely to have been a set of sculpture panels commissioned to sit on the church altar. It is thought that 90% of religious art was destroyed during the reformation and under Edward VI, and this is a delightful survival. England had several carving workshops making these carved panels, which were exported all over Europe until the trade ceased by the mid C.16th. This panel is carved in high relief and shows the nativity scene, which, unusually, has been reversed to the established design. It is also exceptional in that it remains in the church that it was most likely commissioned for (no ‘retables’, as they are called, remain in their original positions in this country any more), having been discovered hidden under the chapel floor during restoration work in the 1850’s. Gilding and polychromy still covers much of the carving, including beautifully delicate painting of Mary’s nimbus and the feathers on the angel’s wings. The carving was damaged when found (by pick-axe!), but is otherwise in reasonable condition. It’s location in the wall for the last 150 yrs has kept it at a surprisingly constant temperature and humidity, and therefore the surface and polychromy are relatively sound. Discussions about achievable improvements in the display conditions are in progress with the church, and sympathetic conservation recommendations have been made.