Posts Tagged ‘wood carving’


Photo: David Jennings for the New York Times
David Esterly in 1989. His woodcarvings were in the tradition of a 17th-century English master.

How some artistic geniuses stumble onto their metier is a mystery. This wood carver didn’t even know how to carve wood when he was blown away by the beauty and intricacy of works by a 17th century master. He had to know more.

Katharine Q. Seelye writes at the New York Times, “David Esterly was in London in 1974, walking with his girlfriend to meet her parents for the first time, when she steered him into St. James’s Church, Piccadilly, to see the intricate woodcarvings by Grinling Gibbons, widely considered one of the greatest woodcarvers in history.

“Mr. Esterly, an American who had studied at Cambridge University in England and was trying to figure out what to do with his life, had never heard of Gibbons and knew nothing of woodcarving.

“But inside the church he was mesmerized by what he saw — a cascading cornucopia of delicate, lifelike blossoms, foliage and fruit above the altar, all sculpted in wood by Gibbons in the late 1600s.

” ‘I was seduced by the power of the carving and its capacity to convey the beauty of nature,’ Mr. Esterly told the New York Times in 1998. ‘It seemed to me beyond belief that a human hand had fashioned those seashell swags, drooping bellflower chains, birds with laurel twigs in their beaks and dense whorls of acanthus. My fate was sealed.’

“He decided to learn more about Gibbons, and to do so, he realized, required taking chisels into his own hands. He taught himself woodcarving, becoming so skillful that when some of Gibbons’s 300-year-old carvings were destroyed by fire, Mr. Esterly was summoned to recreate them. He became not only an expert on Gibbons, but also the maker of sought-after sculptures of his own. …

“Mr. Esterly’s life was shaped by his obsession with Gibbons, master carver to the crown, who was commissioned to work in Windsor Castle, Kensington Palace and St. Paul’s Cathedral, among other landmarks. …

“For Mr. Esterly, carving was as much an intellectual exercise as a physical one.

” ‘The wood is teaching you about itself, configuring your mind and muscles to the tasks required of them,’ he wrote in his book ‘The Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making’ (2012). ‘To carve is to be shaped by the wood even as you’re shaping it.’ …

“He worked slowly, creating only about 50 pieces in his lifetime. But as his literary agent, Robin Straus, said by email, he was ‘equally fluent with words and wood’; besides books, he wrote numerous articles and reviews about art and carving.

“The subjects of his carvings varied. One might be Gibbons-like but with a twist — a spray of delicate roses, but with insect holes in the leaves, or a broken stem; another might be a head covered in elaborately carved vegetation.

“In most cases Mr. Esterly carved to the specifications of a patron. For a buyer who revered Thomas Jefferson, he carved a necklace like one sent back by Lewis and Clark, whom Jefferson had sent to explore the Northwest Territory. In others he whimsically updated traditional themes by inserting, say, a carved iPhone or a set of car keys.

“After a fire in 1986 at Hampton Court, Henry VIII’s palace, Mr. Esterly spent a year creating a replica of a seven-foot-long Gibbons carving that had been destroyed.”

More of the story — and some terrific photos — here.

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Photo: Andrew Edlin Gallery
Part-time gravedigger John Byam’s carvings of hands, as seen in a New York gallery.

Artists often have to support themselves with non-art jobs. Gone are the wealthy arts patrons of past centuries, and maybe that’s not all bad, considering the Medicis. In any case, it’s interesting to see what kinds of jobs contemporary artists hold down. You may recall this post about Brando’s gardener’s art, for example.

Now at Hypoallergic, Allison Meier describes the recent gallery showing of a self-taught artist who dug graves in his spare time.

“Dusted with sawdust, John Byam’s sculptures appear as if they’ve just been carved, the shavings attached with glue binder giving a rawness to the miniature spacecrafts, airplanes, houses, helicopters, cameras, and coffins. Andrew Edlin Gallery in Manhattan [displayed] an assembly of these pocket-sized pieces by the late Byam in Unearthed. …

“Born in 1929 in Oneonta, New York, Byam mostly lived a local life, working at his family’s trailer court, with a two-year stint in the military taking him to Japan during the Korean War.

“Later, he had odd jobs with the Delaware and Hudson Railway and as a gravedigger at the local cemetery. The wood carvings, arranged by theme at Andrew Edlin with no label text, have traces of this autobiographical narrative, with a platoon of tanks and heavy artillery, or an open coffin, colored black, on a rolling gurney.

“Yet others, like spaceships and rockets, one with ‘”Moon or Bust’ scrawled in red, herald dreams of exploration. Recognizable pop culture forms, including the U.S.S. Enterprise from Star Trek, suggest these ambitions were limited to vicarious experiences through television, magazines, and movies.

“While that gives the toy-like objects a melancholy edge, they have a lot of joy in their detailed shapes. Byam seemed to delight in making even a simple chair on such a small-scale, with annotations in pencil indicating details like ‘door front’ on a tiny house. An array of human hands chiseled into various poses, one holding a coin, another with the words ‘2 close hands’ folded in prayer, shows a similar enchantment with the shape of things. …

“Byam was a deft craftsman in the tradition of American vernacular woodcarving, and his roughly hewn art is haunted by 20th-century culture, both its wars and fantasies.”

Hyperallergic has some great pictures of Byam’s art here.

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This was posted at an Arlington blog last May, but I just saw the sculpture it refers to.

“You are invited to watch the ladybugs for the Waldo Park Tree Sculpture being made right before your eyes … Work by artists has already begun to transform a tall tree stump on the hill in Waldo Park … into multimedia sculpture that features local birds, animals and insects. The Friends of Waldo Park are holding two community participation days as this work is created. …

“Watch the metal-smiths at work as they cast aluminum ladybugs to be bolted onto the tree sculpture. Stop by for however long you’d like to see how metal-casting is done!” More.

Note the metal ladybugs crawling up the trunk, the bunnies peeking out from inside, and the hawk on top.





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