Around a scratched and gouged workbench a group of Syrian men (and one notable Iraqi) came together to share skills, songs, stories, and to make a woodcarving.
For some, this was a chance to reconnect with old tools that they knew so well from home, to share their exquisite talent & joy in making. Others, just learning the craft, expressed something powerful without having to speak a word. Textures etched in wood grain, our common language.
Although we didn’t know it when we began, this sculpture grew at each mallet blow, chip by chip, evolving until the end into a symbol of home, of places left behind, & what is important to carry with you and remember.
Contained in the beautiful, ornate frame, like a mirror this artwork reflects history, and hope for the future.
Pictures from last months relief carving class. Warm light, playing over subtle tactile traces, left as our students stripped away whatever wood wasn’t necessary for telling their own creation stories: Tales that sometimes shifted in the making/telling. Watching the tools move over the wood, skillfully revealing a little more of these beautiful designs each moment was as special and surprising as seeing the tide recede from an unknown and sunken treasure- it was there all along but who knew!
A more sedentary, contemplative craft than some, but no less demanding – changing angles, shifting grain, ambidexterity, staying sharp, sitting at the bench all day can be exhausting!
For folks who have joined us for the relief carving class, we’ll be starting regular weekend/after work sessions to give space to develop skills and work independently.
Starting with a firm place to stand, a still point from which to safely swing an axe, the fulcrum from which to move the Earth. Carving it into new, more fitting shapes.
Ending with dog-tired, aching bodies and with a better place to sit and rest, to sit and contemplate, to sit and tell stories. To sit, and share, content and laughing. Each finished stool will return to a home that will be enriched because it was made by hand, because it will last, because the skills learned will be passed on, in one way or another.
And all this held beautifully (parents, children, makers, learners, visitors, watchers) inside our new workshop. Thankyou rain, for nudging us nervously into trusting this space!
Beautiful work this past weekend, creating simple seats, from cleft wood, growing as dear trees that defined our horizon only weeks ago. A giant ash that has already defied many attempts to bring it to the ground judging by the twisted, scarred and buckling trunk & silver birch half a century old or more, battleground for local crows & magpies. Felled by our neighbours in the church then sawn, split and transformed into perches of a different order, A Goliath and two Davids, given a second life by three meticulous makers: Shaping perfectly fitting joints, flowing forms with skill and uncommon sensitivity.
Remembering friends gathered by a well fed fire. Kettle boiling constantly, whistling a wedding march.
It was a beautiful way to spend a December day, a privilege for our family to join in the Nag Do (not a stag do) celebrations before Jeff and Jo’s wedding.
Over the day rough cherry logs were split, carved and shaped into a fine fleet of drinking vessels. One like a sleek ship, ready to set sail, another delicately carved with five finger hollows, to perfectly fit the maker. Others, rough hewn giants, deep bowls – all the better for the generous whiskey measures that seasoned the wood (and our livers) as the tools and sun went down.
On Sunday it felt as though the world had run right past spring and into summer without stopping or looking back. The air was so warm, but the acid green hawthorn leaves, cherry blossom and bluebells coming through planted us firmly in the season.
Carving spoons is a wonderful way to connect with the here & now: You have to be totally aware of your body, the tools, the wood, the form you are trying to find or imagine out of the tree…
It is always a special moment to notice the changing quality of sound – the heavy drumming of axes slowly giving way as the almost silent, meditative work of whittling away everything that isn’t spoon commences. If the birdsong weren’t so clear and lovely, & the woodchips so deep on the ground you could have heard a pin drop.
It was a real gift to be able to share time with Simon (already an accomplished whittler by any measure) and a glad company of his friends and family. May these spoons serve you well, either in the cooking, eating or as a reminder of spring’s inspiration.
After looking at the work of M C Escher, Fiona at Mencap was inspired to make these two wonderful woodcut memento mori.
Carving into the smooth limewood was a challenge at first, getting the right angle, shifting weight & muscle, but by the final cut Fiona was nimble and expressive with the tools, even surprising herself. She produced a small run of 4 prints each – SkellyWeg, and The Flower of Love! Now there’s a tale-in-the-making…
We’re hoping to run some woodcut printmaking courses in the New Year, so look out.
Two words that describe an intensely physical day, working in what must have been the warmest room at Lakeside Arts Centre(was it our relentless energy or the muggy weather?) with attentive makers, turning a recalcitrant tree or two into 8 beautiful stools (give or take).
Wonderful. Hard work, handful of blisters, but so rewarding!
Struggling to split stringy acacia wood, & iron-hard maple, revealing the beauty of weather-beaten pine and patterned lime – meeting the challenge of each twist in the grain, and listening through our fingertips to hear what the tools and trees whisper to us. Finally, shimmering smooth surfaces emerge from underneath wet bark.
Not enough time or thought left at the end of the day to get good photographs of the finished articles! If you were there it’d be great to get a picture of your work out ‘in the wild’…
For the last couple of years as well as a weekly drawing lesson, we’ve been introducing the folks at Nottingham Mencap to the joys of working with wood. Building our skills together, cutting straight to the line, measuring success in beaming smiles & sweat on the brow.
Staining the wood
Finished relief carvings
Nailing the sides
Brian shaping the puppet
Ready for treasure
It’s jsut a beginning, but already weve seen beautiful treasure boxes, created characterful dancing marrionettes & rod puppets, and excelled at relief carving. It’s been such fun being with people who have such strong ideas, and a will to learn & make them real, to work with laughter always in the room. Lets hope the sawdust never settles.
From the tranquility, and zen-like concentration of relief carving on Saturday, to the explosive and unpredictable creativity of Family Making on Sunday. Our weekend at the Learning Land was a time of opposites, the textures, & the temperaments.
It was a delight to watch these beautiful carvings emerge from the wood. Sinuous curves, precise lines & hard edges, the subtle textures only glimpsed when the light falls just so, but that felt so good to run your hand over.
On Sunday families imagined and built together: A tank with turning turret, a podium for a posing rabbit, a hayloft, ladder and hurdles, a real bow and arrows. Later, wild whittling warriors battled amongst the trees, and we all took turns to pause & quietly sit on the suprisingly comfortable meditation stool. Ah, full circle.