Thursday, 30 June 2011

Delivery Delights

I have such lovely little adventures when I deliver to customers.  Once the vehicle is loaded, it is a great feeling to be going somewhere new with my stone sculpture, to see where it will call home, and make sure it is installed and settled properly.

Yesterday I received such a warm reception and kind hospitality - after the placing and fixing was done, I was taken on a tour.  This started with saying hello to some gorgeous pigs - one of them a breed I had never seen before, a curly coated pig, black skinned with blonde hair - a Lincolnshire Curly Coat.  This one was moulting but you can see the curls on its ears!

These pigs sadly became extinct in the seventies, before the introduction of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, but we had exported many to Hungary and Austria where they needed hardy stock.  The Hungarians used the 'Lincolnshire Curly Coat' to cross with their 'Mangalitza' (a very similar curly coated pig) and the resultant cross was nicknamed the 'Lincolista'!  We have managed to get some stock back and started breeding them again in this country.

We walked through a natural meadow, full of wild flowers and heaving with butterflies.  Most I saw were the Ringlet butterfuly who's larva feed on grass.

Growing were lots of wildflowers and orchids.

Through the fields to the river boundary, wild yellow honeysuckle clambered tree branches and hung over the water, such sounds and smells, then on to a pond which had been dug, we checked the tin sheets for adders  - none in sight, but toads burrowing backwards out of view.  Damselflies darted and danced round the bullrushes in spectacular turquoise and red coats.

On leaving this paradise I was following briefly by a turkey family, who stopped in the drive to have dust baths.

I came home brimming with feelings after my expedition.  You can see what a lovely adventure delivering can be, and understand why it takes me much longer than I thought it would!  I wonder what tomorrow will bring?

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

From Gallery to Hall to Castle

The Ludlow exhibition is now well underway and I'm home again, back to my normal routine.   After the preview and Meet the Artist at the Ludlow Assembly Rooms we gathered for a wonderful supper, trying lots of Ludlow's finest gourmet treats.  I slept like a log despite the fabulous Henley Hall gala event nearby - a champagne reception, dinner and auction (to raise funds for Ludlow Assembly Rooms refurbishment) in enormous marquees in the grounds, lit with flaming torches and coloured lights with music until the early hours.

Henley Hall is impressive and I wandered in the grounds before breakfast.  There are original stable blocks and beautiful old tackrooms, hay stores and sheds.

I met the horses resting there after their leg of the journey from Land's End to John O'Groats of the horse-drawn WWI ambulence, a charity run by Horses Help Heroes.  The garden is full of really old trees with huge girths and vast, luxuriant canopies - humbling.

We all then set off for a Birthday party held on the lawns of Hay Castle - I've heard of Hay on Wye, because of the famous festivals, but never been.  The Castle was duly crumbling, exuding history and atmosphere.  As we arrived a group of corvids set up from the ramparts complaining of our intrusion.  Round the far side were cobbled pathways and higgeldy buildings all filled with books and old things.  I met so many lovely people, and talked of a thousand things - about glass, farming, publishing, photography, architecture, past times, family and more, while the Revd. Mark Townsend mingled, enthralling us with magic tricks.

In the evening we watched the film Black Swan, had special chilli cauliflower cheese and I had my first ever guitar lesson - I stayed with friends who are musicians in a band, so we played and sang into the night.  A fabulous weekend and one I will remember for a long time.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Quern Stone

Last year I was asked to carve a house name plaque for a Quern Cottage.  Quern was a word I knew, but didn't actually really know what it was.  After looking it up I was fascinated by the findings.  Quern stones are stone tools for hand grinding a wide variety of materials.  They were used in pairs.  The lower, stationary, stone is called a quern, whilst the upper, mobile, stone is called a handstone.  They were first used in the neolithic period to grind cereals into flour.  Research shows however that they were used for grinding almost anything, including medicines, alloys and even snuff.

The prized stone for making a quern-stone was igneous rock, which has a rough surface, but the particles do not break off easily which would cause whatever was being ground to be gritty, although examples in sandstone and gritstone have been found.

Quern-stone -  Bracken Hall Countryside Centre and Museum, Bailden

Anyway, what brought this to mind are all the elderberry flowers, just coming out fully in the hedgerows.  When I was researching the quern stone, I found a lovely recipe using the flour ground by a quern stone to make an elderflower and honey curd tart.

I'm no cook, but this was so delicious that I made a few, they got bigger each time!  Now I'm thinking I need to get back to baking - have you ever made this?  I think it is called Sambocade.

You make a pastry case, fill it with curds (I used cream cheese and cottage cheese together), mixed with honey and your elderflowers (pick just really sweet smelling ones, and scrape off the sprig with a fork), beaten egg and bake.  Wholesomely scrummy!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

A Special Preview

For all my blog friends, those new - welcome - and those of you who regularly read and comment - thankyou, you're lovely company - here is a first view of one of the new pieces I am showing at my Ludlow exhibition.   Red Fox is carved from a block of sandstone, which is rusty in colour, so very fitting.

I've got a really early start in the morning, driving to Ludlow to set up my exhibition 'My Chisel and I' which starts on Friday the 24th July - there's a Meet the Artist that evening - and then it runs to 7th August.  I've been loading up the van today, and it is a tight squeeze!  The Ludlow Assembly Rooms have a huge window at the front and I've made a poster to hang there - it isn't often you get the opportunity to put your name up in lights, and I couldn't pass it up, so bought some hardboard and paint and set to!

This is eight feet by four feet, so hopefully it will show up. I had forgotten how difficult it was to paint a straight line - don't look too closely, there are lots of wobbles.   I did a smaller board with my tools on as well. 

The gallery is on the 5th floor, so it will be quite a day setting up - luckily they've got a lift!

Sunday, 19 June 2011

My Lovely Visitors and Scarecrows

Today is the last day of my Open Studio, it seems to be over so very quickly - I'm getting thoroughly used to all the attention!  Yesterday visitors braved the rain and came to see my sculpture and filled me up with lovely comments.  Thankyou to you all, and to my new customers.  I hope you realise how much your visits, conversations, words and stories encourage and inspire me and how much your support is appreciated.  Thankyou again!

I made a shelf unit for displaying some of my smaller items, and over the days as the shelves have become empty, I've filled them up with little displays of flowers and I'm wondering if I should have a sell-off today at 4 pm, like they do at Chelsea!

This little planter is beginning to look a bit lonely, so today I will pick some flowers for it too!

We are having Open Gardens in the village this weekend as well, so I've had lots of suggestions for where the best flowers are!  Hopefully I can manage to get round a few this evening and also see the display of scarecrows which have appeared everywhere.  This one is on the way to my workshop and made me laugh.  Though I do find scarecrows rather ...  scary!  Don't you?  Something a bit unnerving about them.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Jackdaw Landing

You'll know what I mean if you've been swooped on by protective parent birds - its alarming!   Particularly so when they are large birds, in a gang!  Actually it was more the surprise of it, a sudden muddle and clatter of wings, accompanied by loud and frenzied keowing from half a dozen Jackdaws.  I heard air through feathers and felt the urgency of their alarm calls.  They circled and flew repeatedly past me and away up to the trees.

I soon found the reason - right at my feet, I might have stepped on it, a young Jackdaw, presumably having just taken its first flight, and found itself rather heavily plopped to earth.  It just sat there, blinking at me.  I wondered if it was injured - but it did move and hop about and all seemed okay. 

You don't often get to see these birds so close, and they can certainly charm with those beautiful blue eyes, so it was a bit of a battle - knowing I should come away and leave them alone, and really wanting to stay close and watch. 

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Whortleberries Ripe

I was amazed recently when out on the moor, that the Whortleberries (or Bilberries) were ripe and I ended up picking enough for a meal.  I think this is very early, normally I would expect to pick in July and August. 

What a lovely name, and the bush has many more - bilberry; blueberry; heidelberry; huckleberry; hurtleberry and wimberry. The whortleberry, acquired its name according to a Greek legend. Myrtillus, son of Hermes paid the penalty of double-dealing by being thrown into the sea.  His body was washed ashore and Hermes changed it into a whortleberry bush in memory of the unlucky youth.

There's a Blue Whortleberry, a Red Whortleberry and also a Bog Whortleberry.  I think all the names come from closely related bushes of the Bilberry, which is the name I know and the berry which stained my tongue (and everything else) when I picked and ate them as a child.  We ate them fresh, but also in pies and jams and I remember stories of the World War II British Pilots eating Bilberry jam before a raid, to aid night vision.

Bilberries are extremely difficult to grow and are thus seldom cultivated.  Fruits are mostly collected from wild plants and are found in very acidic, nutrient poor soils. One characteristic is that they produce single or paired berries on the bush instead of clusters, as the blueberry does.  The black, globular, flat topped fruit is larger and softer than blueberry, and often a berry rake is used for collecting them. 

Image courtesy 'hisforhome'

I don't think there are as many bushes as there used to be, perhaps it is the bracken and fern growth overpowering them.  Sheep grazing on the moors love them too, so you have to be quick to pick. 

Monday, 13 June 2011

Visitors Come - Rain or Shine

I've had a steady stream of visitors to my Open Studio over the weekend, with times of such a rush of people coming that I had to go out onto the lane and do 'vehicle management' waving my arms like a professional traffic controller!  Thanks all for patience and fabulous driver manouvering skills!

The entrance to my shed where I am greeting visitors.

Despite the wind and rain lots of people made the journey to my Open Studio and have admired, talked about, left wonderful comments and bought my work! 

A very, very dear customer came to say hello and bought one of my little crucible planters, and brought some home baked scones for me, which were delicious, fluffy and light as you like, very much enjoyed and restored me fully!  Thankyou Betty and Richard.

I'm a happy, skippy stone sculptor today - a little hoarse from talking too much, but delighted and excited that some of my sculpture is going to new, loving homes!

Thankyou to all my lovely visitors!

See the rest of you next weekend, Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th June.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Opening Day

Friday morning, up early to put out all the signs so visitors can find me easily.  Typically it is raining! 

Once in the village I helped with a few arrow signs to keep the traffic flowing!  Actually they were ridiculously hard to hammer into the verges, as it has been so dry.

My first visitors arrived just as I opened the gate and said not to worry about the signs, as they knew the way, having been to my Open Studio the year before.  They remembered seeing a piece they liked and had come back for it this year!  It was a sculpture that is now sold and I could only show them pictures.   We talked a little about 'kicking yourself' and 'wishing you had..' 

More cars started to arrive - a busy day ahead.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Nearly Ready

Just making final preparations for opening my workshop on Friday as part of the North Yorkshire Open Studio event.

Painting plinths and shelves, (good job the geese are already white), sweeping and tidying and placing sculpture to look its best.

Keep dashing between jobs as one minute we have black skies, thunderstorms, dramatic lightening and heavy downpours and the next baking brilliant sunshine.  Must check the weekend forecast.  Oh, and get my signs ready.

Best get back to it!

Monday, 6 June 2011

Selecting Stone

On Saturday morning I had a meeting at Eskdale Quarry to choose a piece of stone for carving a village way-marker.  The idea is to have a large boulder, natural, rough hewn, just as it comes from the quarry with a compass carved into the top.  The sizes and design had been discussed at a site meeting earlier, so I took my measure to check dimensions.

This is a local quarry that I have not been to before, the stone is usually used for building, and for carving I could see it would be a challenge.  It is heavily bedded, and crumbly in parts with large areas of colouring, banding and marking.  This is very beautiful to look at as a boulder, but problematic when trying to carve fine detail.

Despite the acres of stone, I went from one boulder to the next, and next, rejecting as I went due to size, marking, soundness.  Eventually, late into the morning, I found a piece, marking it as the one, and organised  delivery to my workshop.  It will be interesting to see how it behaves.

This quarry was chosen because it was felt local stone should be used for the project and I think this is a lovely idea in theory - in practice, for the proposed design  it does mean compromises.  Consequently I am see-sawing from feeling a bit frustrated to excited by the challenge of working differently and adapting as I go along.

While looking round for my block, I came across a hole in the quarry face, and this was described by the quarry owner as a jet mine.  I crawled and squeezed into the opening (felt very daring) to have a look, but didn't find any nuggets.  Jet was mined all along the Whitby coastline and many mines sprang up to cope with demand at the height of its popularity.

So I await delivery with mixed feelings - hope the weather stays fine as it is too big to fit in the workshop, I will be sitting on top of it to carve!

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Ludlow Stone Carving Course

What a lovely time, spent with my group of beginner carvers, who did incredibly well with their sculptures in just one day.  Each piece was so different, showing a little individual something from the maker.

 We had a real mix, a very ambitious piece based on Rodin's 'The Thinker', which showed considerable skill for a first time carve; very characterful and delicate relief carving; a bird (looked like something I might have carved!) which was smooth and rounded and sat in the hand so comfortably; a head carved with great free spirit, evolving as it went;  lettercutting, a beautiful line of verse with each letter becoming smoother, neater and more confident, and a fossil encrusted boulder, with amonites and shells protruding and bursting out.  Everyone worked really hard - it was hot, and they all barely stopped, with quick bites for lunch before getting back to work.  Well done all - I am very proud of your efforts.

Ludlow looked wonderful, I shall explore more when I go down again later in the month for my exhibition.  I did go astray in the one-way system, but it meant I saw more in finding my way back!

Must mention too, all the lovely people at the Ludlow Assembly Rooms, who were super friendly and helpful and made me feel very welcome.  When I left, most of them were covered in stone dust from helping me move everything and load up.  It was quite a sight, from our work room, a line of carvers carrying sculpture and people carrying workbenches and tools, leaving a trail of stone-dusty footprints down the corridor - thankyou for helping make it a very successful and happy day, and sorry for the mess! 

PS:  But don't worry -  it is what I call 'clean dirt'!

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