Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Note From David Esterly

Although The Lost Carving is "text driven" (as they say in the publishing business), it's about a visual subject. So in this space I have posted, chapter by chapter, some images that didn't make it into the book but illustrate topics that arise there.  As you look at these pictures you're meant to have the book at hand. 

When you get to the end of Chapter V at the bottom here you'll have to click "Older Posts" to get to the remainder of the book.  Or you can use the "Blog Archive" there to jump to individual chapters.


Here are the two other images of Grinling Gibbons that adorn the walls of my workroom, as I mention on p. 4.  First, a copy of a ca. 1690 portrait of Gibbons by Godfrey Kneller.  Gibbons is measuring the head of Proserpina as carved by Bernini:

Second, a mezzotint of a ca. 1691 portrait of by John Closterman of Gibbons reclining complacently alongside his trophy wife: 

Chapter I: A Metaphor for Everything

p. 17.  The fire in the grace-and-favour apartments at Hampton Court Palace, just before it bursts through the roof.  In this larger color image of the frontispiece to this chapter you can see the fire hose trying in vain to contain the flames, which eventually burn through the ceiling, and then through the floor into the royal apartments below.

p. 18  "Three serried rows of chisels" (almost all of them gouges, properly speaking), arranged with blades toward the carver.

Chapter II: The Use of Time is Fate

On p. 38 I mention that Grinling Gibbons arrived in Britain as "a maker of small tour-de-force figure sculptures, usually on religious themes."  The earliest carving of his we have, less than 15" high, is a boxwood relief sculpture of King David playing the harp, which the young Gibbons may actually have brought from Europe as a sampler.

And here is the relief sculpture after Tintoretto's Crucifixion that the young Gibbons was at work on when he was discovered in the obscure cottage by John Evelyn (p. 36-38).  The relief itself is four feet wide, and it has a frame of flowers very unlike those carved by Gibbons later:

Flowers, that is, unlike those in Gibbons's reredos carving at St. James's Church, where I had my conversion experience (p.44). Here is a full view of this recently conserved and lightened composition from 1684 (you can scroll down to chapter V to see the way it used to look):

On p. 44 I write about how W.B. Yeats embraced the idea of Unity of Being, the idea that a simple craftsman who works with his hands can come closer to the divine than even a philosopher can. "It's all in a beautiful passage from Yeats's prose that I've had tacked up above my desk ever since my earliest days in Cambridge... There it is above my desk still, a little yellowed now, that sheet of paper with Yeats's words."  The passage is from A Vision.

On p. 54, my first encounter with a carving chisel.  "Essence of tool, it seemed. Only two parts to it: a wood handle and a steel blade."

Chapter III: If the Fool Would Persist in His Folly...

Here is a larger scale image of the lost carving shown on p. 70. This is the 1939 glass plate photograph which was our only guide to the seven foot long drop that was lost in the flames.

The"bravado...haughty boldness of projection...death-defying undercutting... stormy swells and hollows" that I mention as characteristics of Gibbons's carving (p. 74) are shown for example in this cresting in the chapel of Trinity College, Oxford

Here is the companion to the lost drop, whose revelatory qualities come to light on p. 77:

And here is a composite archival image of the two drops over the facing east door, which on pp. 85-6 emerge as even more revelatory:

Finally, here is a detail from the upside down drop mentioned on p. 87.  If you look very carefully, you can see the spike going upwards.  Note too the heavy yellow wax on the carving; on pp. 128-9 we discover how it got there.

The Tijou gate (p. 92) at Hampton Court Palace, looking out towards the lime tree avenue:

Chapter IV: The Fascination of What's Difficult

On pp. 114-115 I write about how, after a preliminary pen and paper sketch, I develop my working plans in Adobe Illustrator. Let's take for example the foliage carving I'm at work on in the Prologue of the book.  Here is the quick pencil sketch I did to formulate my ideas for the carving:

It's a simple line drawing, as you can see.  But then, to develop the layered construction of the carving, I redrew this design in shorthand form in Illustrator and worked out its structure. In the book I talk about how incomprehensible these three dimensional, x-ray-like designs are, and how I'd never show them to a client. Here is this one, with each layer of carving in a different color: 

The layers are sawn out separately and then carved, starting with the forward elements.  Here's the completed piece. Incidentally the leaves I mention in the book's Prologue (pp. 1-3) are on the bottom left of the top grouping.

You might be interested in seeing what the bottom layer of this piece looked like, before the forward work was dowelled and glued onto it: 

Under Chapter VII below I've posted the design for an even more complicated carving, and alongside it a picture of the completed piece.   You will be able to see how the design has changed, sometimes radically, on the workbench during the carving itself.  The creativity that's embedded in the actual making of a thing is a subject that is close to the heart of the book.   
pp. 116-17.  Up the snowy escarpment at the head of the Swale Pond. 

On pp. 113-14 I note that Gibbons' presentation drawings are sometimes beautiful works of art in themselves, and I use one of them on p. 121 as the endpiece to this chapter.  Here is a full color image of it. 

Chapter V: The Art That Arrives Even to Deception

Illusionistic carving like Gibbons's may be "the art that arrives even to deception", but I suggest on pp. 124-7 that the pale monotone of lime preserves this kind of carving from too literal a resemblance.  It allows us to concentrate on the formal qualities of the carved object without worrying about whether it's actually real.  These gardening tools would have been spoiled, in my opinion, if I'd painted them:

On pp. 130-33 I write about how the idea that wood should be brown is ingrained in our consciousness, and how when I first saw it I didn't think it odd that the altar carving at St. James's Church Piccadilly it was darkly varnished.  Here is how it looked back then:

You can scroll back to the images for Chapter II to remind yourself of how it looks now, after conservation and lightening.

P. 136.  Here is my copy next to the original the little 17th century ornament.  I thought I'd managed to deceive the owner, but he now seems cannier than I thought.  I now recall that one reason for the crusty look of my cuts is that I was using jelutong, a balsa-like tropical wood, rather than the original's limewood.  I can't remember why.  Mine is on the right:

I've just found an old photograph of the very early carving I did that incorporated a broken stem, fooling at least one observer (pp. 136-7):

pp. 137-40.  Here are some examples of the American hardwoods carving experiment that sent me racing back to limewood.

On p. 147 I mention that at Hampton Court we found a carving with a back covered with gouge stab marks.  You can see a picture on p. 198 of my book Grinling Gibbons and the Art of Carving.

Here is a detail of the endpiece illustration of Chapter IV, a musical trophy that includes among other things a copy of Benny Goodman's clarinet (Goodman was a friend of my patron):

To see images for the remaining chapters, click "Older Posts" below.  Or you can use the "Blog Archive" here to jump to individual chapters.

Chapter VI: Begin as a God, End as a Slave

Here's an example of lifeless CNC machine carving, discussed on pp.160-62:

These are the two crocuses that were broken off and survived almost undamaged from the fire.  As I write on pp. 170-71, they allowed me to calculate the correct size of the forward elements in the print of the archive photograph:

Here is a detail from one of the 1907 photographs mentioned on p. 175, showing lime wash present but beginning to wear away.  This is taken from the photograph on p. 156:

A side view of the bulging rope section, which I feared projected too far (pp. 177-82):

And here it is fitted onto the lower layer of carving.  To see how it looks with the drop in place on the wall, see below in "After".

Two hand positions for holding the tool in a more delicate way are mentioned on pp.188-89.  The first is illustrated by the photograph on p. 192.  Here is the second, in which the propelling hand holds a small tool as it might a scalpel or a pencil:

Chapter VII: The Thinking of the Body

pp. 195-98.  Jeff Koons's Large Vase of Flowers.

 "I...found some clear plastic sheets that could be drawn on by felt-tipped pen.  They were better than the usual semi-opaque paper when it came to tracing accurate lines from a blurry photograph" (p. 202).  Here I'm transferring the tracing from the archive photograph onto the board for the bottom layer of carving, using carbon paper:

pp. 204-208.  In carving inventing is part of making.  Here's an example of a carving altering significantly in the course of its making, as it opportunistically veers away from the drawn design.  This is the almost incomprehensible working drawing for a drop, composed in Adobe Illustrator.  Each layer of carving is in a different color:

Notice the fern fronds on the right hand side of the lower grouping.  They curl upwards to form a kind of whirlpool effect with the downward spiraling leaves to their left.  Below is the carving on the workbench in mid course, with the ferns in the position dictated by the drawing though not yet attached to the still-incomplete lower layer:

But this whirlpool flow in the lower grouping began to trouble me.  It seemed inconsistent with the design of the upper grouping.  Usually the spontaneous opportunism in carving is focused on the smaller details of modelling, but sometimes, as here, it is possible to make profound alterations as you go along.  Here, since the lower level was still in a fluid state of modeling, I was able to rotate the ferns 180 degrees:

 which I think made the whole carving more consistent:

Chapter VIII: Meaning Isn't the Meaning

Dutch rush (pp. 225-31), Equisetum hyemale, growing in wet sandy soil on the bank of a nearby pond:

I used Dutch rush on a lily petal a few weeks ago, not only to smooth it but to create a subtle texture (p. 230):

For more on Dutch rush, see Grinling Gibbons and the Art of Carving, pp. 202-4.

p. 234.  Here is the magnificent lump next the the central area of the carving, of which it is the survivor.  The platform with a nail in it once held the bunch of forget-me-nots you can see on the left hand side of the archive photograph:

p. 235.  I was able to identify the outline of the middle layer of the carving, here outlined in red.  The forward layer of forget-me-nots is outlined in green.

"Sometimes I'd return along the edge of the dizzying cliffs by the sea..." (p. 254):

Near the end of the carving, finishing the bottom layer.  "...the creature gives up the ghost and all that's left is the task" (p. 256):

The finished drop, in a niche in the garden wall outside the workroom.  A color version of the photo on p. 263.


A blurry snapshot of the bulging leaf rope in position in the dim King's Drawing Room, where I have gone to investigate why I do not feel vindicated by the new evidence I have found (p. 273): 
Part of the mutilated Gibbons-era composition at Winchester Cathedral mentioned on pp. 274 and 278.  The main part of the cartouche, together with the right hand drop and some forward work on the left hand drop are missing.   
And here, incidentally, is the piece with the replacement work I provided, which was painted and gilded to match.  As at Hampton Court, some of the areas where the carving could not be documented were left unfinished.

The "letter rack" sculpture mentioned on p. 280 is inspired by paintings such as this 1671 still life by Cornelius Gijsbrechts:   
The carving has just been completed:

                   P. 280: "Columns of rain...blurring the hill".

Here is a larger color shot of the peonies image that ends the book.