Saturday, May 11, 2013
The Lost Carving
A Journey To the Heart of Making
By David Esterly
Published in the USA by Penguin/Viking, December 2012
My craft talents lie in knitting, embroidery and writing - I cannot paint or draw anything recognisable and have always been amazed and fascinated by those whose talents do lie in this direction. David Esterly is a master carver who writes with deep understanding and insight into the whole complex and highly creative process of carving.
I can just about identify the sharp end of a chisel from the handle, but found this book to be utterly enchanting - a poetic paean - from beginning to end.
The great 17th century Grinling Gibbons created much of the spectacular carvings of England's historic Hampton Court Palace and when a catastrophic fire destroys some of his work in March 1986, Esterly is tasked with the daunting job of restoring what is salvageable and then recreating one masterpiece from an ancient glass-plate photograph.
It was not just a technical challenge but also an emotional challenge. To have to carve something as magnificent as the original, when it has historically been held that the incredible secrets of Gibbons' unique techniques had almost certainly died with him, is a prospect which would have terrified most people, but for Esterly, it became a rite of passage as well as a challenge; he set out to keep a detailed journal of his knowledge of the master-carver and the whole experience of working at Hampton Court.
Not only did he complete the work he was tasked to do and succeed triumphantly, he created a piece of history and a book of his own. Gibbons' life and times are brought to exuberant life, intertwined with Esterly's own deep appreciation of the original painstaking craftsmanship and the forces which shaped and developed his own life and skills as well as Gibbons'.
Part memoir, part detective story and in part a technical treatise on carving, this is a tastefully illustrated, alluring and thoroughly captivating book which left me feeling sadly bereft when I reached the last page.