I recently had the pleasure of reading a book by David Esterly called “The Lost Carving – A Journey to the Heart of Making”. David is a renowned expert on everything to do with the 17th century woodcarver Grinling Gibbons – his story, his art, and he has learned Gibbon’s carving technique and styles so well that he received a commission to help replace some of the Gibbons carvings that burned in Hampton Court Palace back in the 1980’s. David also wrote a book on Grinling Gibbons called “Grinling Gibbons and the Art of Carving” – a fascinating book on the story of Grinling Gibbons and his incredible art in wood.
Grinlin Gibbons was an English woodcarver (born in Holland, but most of his carvings were made in England, so the English claim him for their own) who carved the most incredible detailed carvings of foliage, flowers, fruit, cherubs, wild-life – to the most intricate and minute details. The delicacy of the carvings are astonishing. You just have to see the carvings and stand in amazement that these were made by human hands.
Watch this you short tube video on his carvings in Hampton Court Palace.
The book, The Lost Carving, was David Esterly’s story on his experience with spending a year replacing a section of a Gibbon’s carving that burned when a section of Hampton Court burned back in 1986. The book walks you through the politics, technical discoveries, and creative process that he experienced in this year of carving.
I have to say, Mr. Esterly is not only an amazing carver who was able to carve the replacement to look exactly like an original Gibbons, but he has a poetic way of writing and using artistic metaphors that really bring you into his experience with the carving. I am amazed at this because I realize that I may know carving, but my descriptive explanation is pretty straight forward – nothing too pretty – just the facts, ma’am.
When I first started to read this book, I was enthralled with his ability to describe the creative process of carving. I kept thinking “yeah – that’s what I wanted to say, but could never find the words…” I understood exactly what he was experiencing, and was able to find a kindred spirit who was able to describe it in quite an amazing and eye-opening way. Here is an example of his writing from “The Lost Carving”:
“Carvers are bringers of shadows, stainers of the white radiance of eternity, wreckers of a smooth plank. They live in a world permeated by error. Every carving starts the same way. You stare at a drawing on a board and think to yourself, I may not know exactly what should be there but at least I an see some things that shouldn’t. So you start by rounding the corners of a sawn-out peach, thinking, Well, I can’t go wrong with that anyway.
You know that most of the wood in front of you is superfluous. It’s all potentiality, a hundred delusive paths forward. The songs it sings are siren songs, luring you to wrongdoing. All you can do is lash yourself to the mast of the image visualized in your mind, and cut away the false until something resembling that image begins to emerge and you hear a song that seems to beckon to safety. A long night leading to the dawn, or so you hope; a string of minuses ending in a plus.”
What more can I say….