The first two days of carving – a celebratory event for the first tree-plantings of the Rise of Northwood. My brief to budding sculptors was to explore the upper part of the block, protecting the corners and the outermost extremities; safeguarding our ability to use the stone to its fullest extent for as long as possible. It’s effectively someone abruptly thrust into the family. Perhaps 70 people have felt the tools, chosen the right heft of mallet to suit them; chosen favoured chisels through some subconscious consideration. We’ve found the block has two characters – soft and amenable where it is fresh from the quarry; hard and resisting where it has felt the air. I happened on a birds-eye image of the geomorphology of our area and it struck me that the carving brief was similar to what has happened to the South Downs. Chiselling further into the lower-lying parts of our limestone mass is crudely akin to what happens to the landform through both the elements and gravity over millions of years.
Engaging thoughts? A fine, bright still first day – we were almost a neolithic hamlet perching just above a former water course, with our tented activities. The odd passing traveller from outside the community; drawn in by smoking charcoal and the aroma of cooked wildboar and aurochs (well, ok… sausage and burger). Watching people with an instinctive feel for tools. Talking to people with an innate, mysterious feel for the land. Meeting the relatives of the maker of the bequest. The mentions of Lepers’ Walk and a headless horseman; thorn apple Jimsonweed growing from pheasant seed, and morphine poppies grown for the war effort. Oh, and three circling buzzards and a pair of Wagtails in the last sun of the second day… as the tractor-train left and the land grew cold and dark.
I guarantee our Day 1 and 2 sculptors will return for more. Maybe next week, or next year. Or in 20 years, with their grandchildren. What intrigues me now is that the most obvious imagery we seek to celebrate doesn’t actually make terribly good sculpture. Planting whips (baby trees) relies largely on the contributing human form. Woodland too, ironically, isn’t sculptural unless it is clumps or grouped trees yielding some visual contrast – like Chanctonbury Ring. Woods often drape and muddy the underlying landform, filling hollows and disguising peaks. Picture Nore Hill now and how it might have been when the designed wider landscape was fresh in the 18th/19th century.
What is becoming clear to the new sculptors is that to create possibility, you must open things up and delve deeper and perhaps wait for serendipitous happenings. And to do that, you have to make choices about what must be discarded and what may remain. It is not easy, but the results will enrichen us all.
Next carving: 7th and 13th December in daylight hours. 2 miles round trip muddy walk from Bignor carpark or Northwood Lane, Slindon. Or cycle from Eartham Wood carpark…